MECHANIC FALLS – Elected school officials from Union 29 towns voted unanimously Thursday night on a three-pronged course for moving forward with construction of an administration building.

They conceded their discussion was long overdue and had ended on friendly terms.

“This has been an incredibly open discussion,” said Ike Levine, chairman of the Poland School Committee. “This has really been great.”

The School Union 29 committees of Poland, Mechanic Falls and Minot discovered Thursday that they did not fully understand a previously signed agreement that spelled out the financing, ownership and maintenance of a shared administrative office building.

After construction project consultant Mark Gray presented a spreadsheet of numbers and pointed out agreement stipulations, committee members decided that they may want to reconsider their previous positions.

Once the elected school officials realized the financial implications of changing ownership in the new building in terms of ongoing maintenance costs, property tax obligations, and yearly construction debt payments, the right decision for each town seemed far from clear.

By the end of the meeting, the tension had cleared and committee members voted that:

• The respective chairmen of the three committees will meet to clarify provisions of the existing interlocal building agreement.

• The committees will continue to communicate until actual costs become known.

• The committees will decide by December what decisions need to be made to keep the project and agreement whole.

In late August, Levine had asked Minot and Mechanic Falls to contribute about $10,000 each when the construction bid for School Union 29 office shared with the town of Poland’s bus dispatch center came in $37,409 over budget.

However, numbers from Tuesday’s presentation showed that the cost overrun could not be fairly divided in equal amounts.

Levine also gave the other two towns the option of reducing their ownership in the building if they more funding wasn’t agreeable.

Minot agreed to a lesser ownership stake, while Mechanic Falls stood pat on the existing agreement.

“We had no information,” said Mechanic Falls committee Chairman Terri Arsenault. “We did not have any idea of what any of these options meant. We were coming in totally blind. So we absolutely were not going to make changes without information.”

Minot committee members even backed off their previous position after learning that operation and maintenance costs, as well as property tax portions would remain unchanged even after giving up some of their town’s ownership.

Minot Committee member Stephen Holbrook said the prorated shares of property taxes should reflect actual ownership and not be calculated as part of the school union’s usual cost-sharing expenses.

Gray suggested that school officials revisit their current agreement to more fairly reflect ownership and maintenance costs.

He made a distinction between large building expenses or improvements and ongoing office overhead.

Gray also reminded committee members that the building is designed to grow or to change in its use.

Still in question and needing further review is whether the school committees need to return to their respective town meetings for changes to previous decisions, whether the current agreement can or should be amended, and how each town will deal with the additional money needed for the building.

Even the mention of having only the chairs of the three committees meet more often raised objection from Holbrook, who insisted that the full committees meet more often.

“I think the whole board should meet so that everyone gets the same information at the same time,” said Holbrook.

Mechanic Falls committee member Dan Blanchard added that conducting business through e-mail also muddied the communications.

“We don’t need all this e-mail flying around,” said Blanchard.

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