WALES — By a margin of only six votes, voters in this small town decided Tuesday to close their 60-student school.

Townspeople voted 104-98 to close Wales Central School in June.

“This is a sad day for Wales,” Regional School Unit 4 Superintendent James Hodgkin said Tuesday night. “Closing a school is not something anybody wants to do. I feel badly this is happening. I don’t do this kind of thing very lightly.”

Parents who opposed the closing were upset after the vote was counted, he said. They organized to fight the closing, forming a Facebook page called “Vote To Save Wales Central School.”

Hodgkin pledged Tuesday that Wales children who next year will attend school in Litchfield or Sabattus “will get a quality education.”

The Wales Central School building will likely be turned over to the town, Hodgkin said, adding that he had to check with the Maine Department of Education for details about ownership transfer.

Like other districts in Maine faced with shrinking enrollment and smaller budgets, RSU 4 consolidated last year.

RSU 4 comprises Sabattus, Litchfield and Wales. If Wales residents had voted to keep the school open, they would have paid $208,000 more in property taxes next year. The $208,000 savings will come from not heating and maintaining the building and cutting two positions, a custodian and a secretary, who will be laid off.

Teachers and students will go to the Libby-Tozier School in Litchfield, where there is room. Parents close to Sabattus can request that their children attend school there. If there is room, they will be accommodated, Hodgkin said.

At the town hall Tuesday, voter turnout was light, Town Clerk Patty Auge said. Wales has 1,200 registered voters. As of 4:30 p.m., just under 100 had voted. When the polls closed at 8 p.m., 202 had voted.

Those voting to close the school said the building is too big for 60 students.

“It’s inevitable. It’s going to be closed sooner or later,” Rhobe Moulton said. “We put a lot of money into upgrading the school. I hate to see it close, but that has to happen.” Moulton said she’d like to see the building used as a town hall and community center. “It’s got a nice gym. The citizens of the town could use it.”

The school was renovated in 1996, leaving it with two floors of classrooms, a security system, a large gymnasium, a cafeteria, library, music room and resource room. Lately, pipes have frozen and burst at the school.

Bill and Kim Grant voted to close the school.

“It’s too much for the few kids who get use out of it,” Bill Grant said.

“If they were running it full force that would be one thing,” Kim Grant said. “But I think it’s foolish to pay that kind of money to keep it up for that little bit of kids.”

Keith Hinkley voted to keep it open.

“I have two kids that are going to go to that school,” he said. One is in kindergarten; his second would have attended the school next year, he said. The school “is a big reason why we came back to town. I went to school there. It’s a good school, good teachers.”

Carl and Jane Hinkley also voted to keep the school open. Jane Hinkley said their grown daughters went to the school, graduated from Oak Hill High School and are “very accomplished.” Wales is a small community with a small school. “It can’t get any better,” she said.

Carl Hinkley said he didn’t think closing the school would save money, since the town will have to maintain and heat the building.

“I think it’s ridiculous to close the school,” he said. “We being a small town, we haven’t been able to control the district. The other towns control it. We’ve been overruled.”

The makeup of the district board is based on the three towns’ populations. Sabattus has four members, Litchfield has three and Wales, with the smallest population, has two.

Melanie Newton-Burgess, an RSU 4 director representing Wales, said she voted to keep the school open Tuesday and during board meetings. “Little kids in this community deserve to stay in their own town,” she said.

Before the three towns consolidated last year, each town had its own K-8 school. This year, Wales Central School holds grades K-2, while Wales students in grades three through five go to the Carrier Ricker School in Litchfield; grades six through eight go to Oak Hill Middle School in Sabattus.

Even with the $208,000 savings, Hodgkin said the district faces a $600,000 shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

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