Selectmen plan for various outcomes of school vote

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Feb 24, 2020
Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds

Stockton Springs — The Board of Selectmen received two presentations Thursday in anticipation of the March 3 vote on whether to sell Stockton Springs Elementary School, which the town accepted from Regional School Unit 20 in 2018. They also received comments from an abutter to the school.

The first presentation was from Chuck Piper, co-owner of Sundog Solar in Searsport. Town Manager Jennifer King asked him if the school could be added to the nearly 32-kilowatt solar array installed on the roof of the town's Public Works garage in 2018, in the event the town votes not to sell the property. The town purchases electricity produced by the array from Sundog under a power purchase agreement approved in 2017. The system can produce about 40,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, according to figures supplied by Piper.

Piper answered that the school could be added to the system, which now powers the Town Office, Public Works garage, Fire Department, ballpark and harbor, and sends some power back to the power grid. However, when King and Selectman Betsey Bradley said they did not believe the solar array could supply all of the school's energy needs in addition to the facilities already on the system, Piper agreed. He noted that power could be directed to the various locations in any order the town specifies.

He suggested adding one or more heat pumps to the Town Office to use the extra power being produced by the solar array. Upon learning that Sundog could install the pumps, Selectman Peter Curley asked him to prepare a proposal with a recommended number of pumps along with cost figures to be discussed at the June town meeting.

Next up was Keirsten Wyman, a real estate agent with ReMax Jaret & Cohn's Belfast office, who made a pitch to have the school listed with her if the town votes to sell it. Wyman said because she lives in the town, she is especially concerned to find the "right" buyer for the property if it is sold, and asserted that she would be able to target suitable buyers more easily than an auction house would.

"If somebody gets (the school) super-cheap," she said, "they might not be as invested in doing something with it."

She added that if the town lists the property with her for six months following the vote and does not find a satisfactory buyer, there would still be time to auction it before the next heating season.

Wyman noted that while the school building, which has mold inside, "has a lot to overcome," it also has assets, such as a kitchen and gymnasium, adding that the property presents "a huge opportunity to try to entice some people to our area."

When Curley asked what a fair price might be, given that a potential buyer would have to first clean up the inside of the building and then adapt it to their use, she recommended the town have a commercial appraisal done on the property, saying it would "give you a better ballpark than anything I can give you." She said the cost of an appraisal could be $3,000 or more, and agreed to research nearby appraisers.

Her firm's usual commission on sales of this type of property, Wyman said, is 7% to 10%, but she offered to look into discounting the commission for the town.

Finally, abutter Ryan King presented his concerns about the future of the school property. He said he wanted the town to make the most of its equity in the school and offered the selectmen and town manager copies of a 2012 report to the town of Orland by its Properties Development Committee on the reuse of the Orland Consolidated School property. He said he hoped the town might take Orland's process as a model if residents voted not to sell the school.

Several times, he indicated that he was unclear about the next steps following the March 3 vote, asking for a schedule with dates showing what would happen when. He also said he was afraid that if townspeople voted to sell, the sale would happen "too fast."

In response, Curley showed some irritation, saying that a survey was sent out to the roughly 1,500 residents of the town, and fewer than 90 responses were received. He added that he never saw residents at selectmen's meetings. Bradley pointed out that the school building, which dates from the mid-1970s, was deteriorating and the town must decide what to do with it sooner rather than later so that its condition did not continue to decline.

Before Ryan King left, selectmen agreed that they would be happy for him to be involved in a committee to consider possible uses for the school if the town voted not to sell it, and Jennifer King invited him to contact her with questions or concerns in the future.

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