Searsport selectmen leave school acceptance vote to residents

By Stephanie Grinnell | Jun 03, 2019
File photo

Searsport — During a continued public hearing about acquisition of Stockton Springs Elementary School, Searsport selectmen did not take a position on the issue. Voters in the two towns of Regional School Unit 20 will make the decision at the polls Tuesday, June 11.

The school district has offered the shuttered elementary school to both towns at no cost. However, the building has many known issues, including mold and a leaking roof, so if the towns accept the building, residents will have more decisions to make. Options for the school presented at the first public hearing on May 23 included restoring the building or demolishing all or part of it and keeping the nearly 10 acres of land. Stockton Springs selectmen have recommended accepting the school district's offer.

The hearing was continued from May 23 to May 31 because there was no quorum of Searsport selectmen available for the joint meeting with Stockton Springs selectmen. In Searsport on Friday, just four people — including Stockton Springs Selectman Peter Curley and his wife — attended the hearing. All four also were at the previous meeting, so Town Manager James Gillway simply opened the floor for questions after the meeting was called to order.

Searsport resident Faith Garrold said she was head teacher when the school was built.

“It makes me sad to see that building in the shape it’s in,” she said. “It’s outlived its usefulness to us as residents of Searsport. … “It’s time to call it quits and let Stockton take it.”

She said Stockton should to take ownership of the school and “turn it into a viable use for the town.”

Don Garrold noted Searsport, if voters in that town reject taking ownership, will lose some equity but said it makes sense to let that go because of the work needed.

“It’s a wonderful building,” he said. “It’s a little ill right now.”

Searsport Selectman Dick Desmarais said he noticed problems in the building years ago during an emergency management agency inspection. Curley said the school, built in 1975, has been roofed twice already and “has problems now.”

“I think we should just be good neighbors and vote no,” Faith Garrold said.

If both towns decline to accept the building, ownership will remain with the school district. If both towns accept it, an agreement will be drawn up between the towns about fiscal responsibility and use. If one town accepts the school, it will be the sole responsibility of that town to make decisions about it going forward and will require more public meetings to gather feedback and approval to expend funds.

The question will appear on the June 11 ballot in both towns. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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