RSU 16 leaders urging residents to vote on $5.7 million project

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POLAND — About three dozen people turned out for a public forum Wednesday night on the proposed $5.7 million renovation to Regional School Unit 16’s combined middle and high school.

About half were Poland, Minot or Mechanic Falls officials or school administrators.

Although attendance was about average for school budget forums or other similar public school meetings, turnout was lower than RSU 16 leaders had hoped for.

The renovation proposal goes to voters on Election Day, Nov. 7. With no major election to draw people to the polls, school leaders are concerned that too few people will cast votes on the issue.     

“That’s our worry: How do we engage our communities so that we have a good turnout and we know what the will of the group is?” Superintendent Tina Meserve said. “If you have 10 percent of your population voting on something, you don’t know if that’s the will of the community or not.”

The proposal calls for borrowing $5.7 million to add several classrooms to Bruce M. Whittier Middle School, eliminating the need for the three modular units used as six temporary classrooms. The project would also move some shared middle school-high school offices to a central location within the building and would create a single, secured entrance for the middle school and Poland Regional High School.

About 15 or 20 residents showed up for the forum to learn about the project. Some wanted to know why it was needed. Others wanted to know how much it’s going to cost taxpayers.

School leaders say the project is needed to get middle school students out of portable classrooms, improve safety and provide needed space to a building that is overcrowded.

Meserve said the project, which would be paid solely through local property taxes, would cost the three towns $7.2 million over 15 years, including interest. That would add $40 to $50 per $100,000 of property valuation, depending on the town. 

“That was a big part of the conversation (at the forum),” Meserve said.

School officials have been working to get the word out about the proposal and the upcoming vote.

Meserve said she’s attended senior citizens events to answer questions about the proposal. RSU 16’s operations director will soon post his forum presentation on the school system’s website. And on Nov. 4, school officials will set up an information station at craft fairs at schools in Mechanic Falls and Poland.

“We’re hoping to capture some attention when they’re buying their crafts for Christmas gifts,” she said. “Where are people going to be congregating and how can we be a presence there?”

Meserve said school officials will meet with anyone who calls the central office with questions about the proposal.

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An artist’s sketch of the expansion at Bruce M. Whittier Middle School and Poland Regional High School.

Bruce M. Whittier Middle School in Poland.

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