RSU 20 offers Stockton Springs school to towns

Mold remediation would fall on new owners
By Fran Gonzalez | May 09, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Stockton Springs Elementary School, contaminated with mold, is now being offered to the two towns that comprise Regional School Unit 20.

Searsport — After years of debate concerning the future of the shuttered Stockton Springs Elementary School, and with some unforeseen setbacks including the discovery of mold proliferation within the building last fall, the school board decided to offer the building as a "gift" to the towns of Searsport and Stockton Springs.

Regional School Unit 20 Superintendent Chris Downing gave details of the meeting that he and Business Manager Dhyana Blanchard attended last week with Searsport and Stockton town managers about the offer and agreement.

According to the formal agreement prepared by Drummond and Woodsum, attorneys for the district, the school is offered in "as-is" condition, with no down payment and completely free. According to the document, the offer needs to be signed by each town's board of selectmen and town manager by May 3, accepting the proposal and indicating they will take the issue to the voters at their respective town meetings before June 30.

The agreement goes on to say the offer will be considered rejected unless at least one town accepts the offer by the deadline. Also, if a town does not obtain approval from voters, "it shall be deemed to have waived its right to acquire the property, and the seller (RSU 20) shall have no further obligations."

April marks two years since the elementary school in Stockton Springs closed its doors to all activities. Voters approved shuttering the mostly unused building in April 2017, after a pre-K program there was relocated to Searsport Elementary School.

In January of this year, the district opened talks with Stockton Springs and Searsport town officials about taking ownership of the building, but progress halted with the discovery of mold. Last December, the insurance company representing RSU 20 notified Downing the claim submitted for mold damage at the school had been denied.

A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m., at Searsport Elementary School, to answer questions regarding the offer on the elementary school.

Business Manager Blanchard said, "The agreement is for the town (board of selectmen) and managers to sign by May 3, indicating that they will be taking this issue to the voters. Searsport has all ready signed it and brought it back. (Stockton Springs Town Manager) Courtney (O'Donnell) is waiting for her full board to meet on Thursday in Stockton."

Gerry French, RSU 20 director and Buildings, Grounds and Transportation Committee member said he was "beyond wanting to play around with this anymore."

"I have no interest in putting money into it or cleaning it," he said. "I have no interest in dropping a quarter of a million dollars into it at all. I want the mold to be somebody else's problem."

Downing said, "We, as employees of the board, have heard that loud and clear. And that is the flow we are following."

A letter to Stockton Springs residents signed by selectmen states that town will vote June 11 on accepting the school from the district. In the letter, selectmen recommend voting in favor of taking ownership of the property.

"While the building has a serious mold issue, the land is valuable. At 9.5 acres, the land could be used for future town needs, i.e., Fire Station, recreational purposes, etc.," the letter states. If voters accept the property, selectmen have charged Stockton Springs Town Manager O'Donnell with investigating options for the property and making a recommendation at a later date.

"The decision to move forward with one option or another would require additional input and a vote by citizens to appropriate funds. Expected costs of such an investment would likely include expert fees, legal fees, cost to demolish (estimated at $50,000 to $80,000 including removal of underground oil tank), etc. The town currently has minimal outstanding debt that is expected to be paid off in the upcoming fiscal year," the letter concludes.

O'Donnell said town officials are prepared "to pass along a lot of information and answer a plethora of questions" at the public hearing May 23.

Blanchard said in an email that the RSU 20 Board of Directors reviewed the mold remediation bids May 9 and the lowest bid came in at $145,850. At that time, the board declined the bids and instead chose to offer the building to the two towns "as is."

According to state statute, the district would be obligated to put the school on the open market if neither Searsport nor Stockton Springs acts on this offer.

After a reasonable amount of time, Blanchard said, "we could then offer it as a sealed bid." If there were no bidders, she said, the building would have to be condemned before it could be demolished.

Republican Journal Editor Stephanie Grinnell contributed to this report.

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