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RSU 71 eyes reorganizing grades, buying former MBNA buildings

By Kendra Caruso | May 04, 2021
Source: File photo

Belfast — Regional School Unit 71 board members discussed with Superintendent Mary Alice McLean April 26 the option to buy three former MBNA buildings for about $7 million to consolidate all of the district's K-2 students into one school in an effort to reorganize the elementary grades.

The three buildings are Bank of America buildings 5, 6 and 7, but the buildings are not owned by Bank of America, McLean said in an email to The Republican Journal.

Capt. Albert W. Stevens School will remain open for grades 3-5, McLean said. That would allow for one bus run and close at least two schools. East Belfast Elementary School would probably stay open for pre-K because a current bond on the building requires the district to use it as a school until the bond is paid off, Director of Finance Chandra Hodgdon said.

McLean is hoping that the owner of the former MBNA buildings will agree to make renovations to the buildings to create classrooms and add other school infrastructure as part of the purchase agreement with the district. The company is willing to do a lease-to-purchase or an owner finance arrangement with the district.

McLean said the 142-acre site and buildings are valued at far more than the roughly $7 million the school district is hoping to buy them for and would be cheaper than building a new school for K-2, which, according to an estimate from a few years ago, would cost up to $25 million.

The change would not decrease the number of staff members, but would reduce operating costs over time, she said. Public outreach promoting the idea would be important to garner support from residents and parents. There could be an open house for people to tour the buildings.

Board member from Belfast Charlie Grey expressed strong support for the idea and thought an ad hoc building committee should be formed to oversee the buildings' renovation. An ad hoc committee could also help garner public support if it included members from the community.

“I think it’s a great part of the future for our district and we should move forward with it,” he said. “… Let's go for it.”

If East Belfast remains open under this reorganization, that would still leave the district with three elementary schools, which is a whole other discussion, board member Jean Dube of Morrill said. If the central office is moved to the new location under discussion, then she thought Belfast Community Outreach Program in Education could be moved to the current central office location.

McLean said in the past BCOPE has been adamant about having a separate location from the high school, so she does not think parents, students or faculty at that school would support that idea. But she has other ideas for the possible use of the space, none of which are firm proposals yet.

If the district bought the buildings, that would take a sizable property off the city's tax rolls, which would have a big impact on the city, Grey said. But he also acknowledged that other towns could be gaining taxable property if the district decided to leave those schools.

The deal is still not ready to be presented to residents of district towns for approval through a vote, McLean said. Much of what was discussed at the meeting is in the beginning stages and she does not yet have a lot of firm answers to questions.

She will get an updated letter of intent from the seller and discuss next steps with the Long Range Planning Committee. She thinks even if the district decides not to purchase the property being discussed, existing schools will need major upgrades.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: from the kitchen | May 06, 2021 05:21

Sorry Charlie. Not gonna fly.



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