POLAND — Voters in Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland are set to cast ballots Tuesday on a $5.1 million bond to update heating and ventilation systems at elementary schools in the towns.

Polls in each of the Regional School Unit 16 towns will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The bond was unanimously endorsed by directors March 2.

On Sept. 30, 2022, a cast iron plate in the single boiler at Minot Consolidated School cracked and space heaters were purchased for the classrooms. The insurance company was contacted and a search begun for replacement parts for the 10-year-old boiler.

Superintendent Ken Healey also called Tom Seekins of Energy Management Consultants in Portland for help.

On Oct. 24, the Operations Subcommittee learned that finding parts or a replacement boiler for Minot would be difficult.


Attempts to get a used boiler or repair the old one proved too costly and a new one was available but could take 25 weeks for delivery. Seekins advised the School Board of a temporary solution to get an outside steam boiler in a box that can be connected to the school’s interior heat pipes. It would cost $12,500 a month.

Seekins said the other two schools’ heating systems could also fail at any time due to age and condition.

At the Feb. 13 School Board meeting, Healey recommended the $5.1 million bond.

If it passes, bids could go out immediately, giving the winning contractor time to order parts and get the work done this summer at the Minot school. Work on the Mechanic Falls and Poland schools would be done in the summer in 2024.

The estimated cost for each school: Minot, $1.79 million; Mechanic Falls, $1.67 million; and Poland: $1.38 million.

The plan has been questioned by selectpersons in Minot and Poland, with concerns focused on the cost of the proposal.


Members of both boards have said the final cost of the bond, with interest, is more than $8 million.

When the Minot Select Board signed off on the $5.1 million referendum, Minot Town Administrator Danielle Loring noted some board members “questioned whether it was in the best interest of the communities.”

“They felt that there had been poor communication regarding these issues,” Loring said.

Minot Select Board member Lisa Cesare told Healey at a school budget meeting: “We’re not happy with the $5 million bond. We’re fine with what you want to spend, (but) that’s a huge amount of money over 20 years. That system probably won’t last for what we’re paying on it.”

Some critics of the proposal said the Minot school’s upgrade should have been funded first, and then the other schools’ needs.

“Minot school needs to be done, and following the process of having a quote on how to pay for that, bond it or not, and go out and actually spend that, to have accountability,” Poland Select Board Chairman Stephen Robinson said recently.


Robinson said “$5.1 million might not be enough in two years” to pay for the upgrades to the other two schools.

Out of concern the referendum may not pass, Assistant Superintendent Amy Hedger told the School Board the Minot Consolidated School’s principal has been asked “to develop an emergency closure plan in the event that bond does not pass or there is a catastrophic failure that renders the school inoperable.”

Healey, who is set to leave RSU 16 in June, said at the February School Board meeting: “I know that we have a community which loves their small schools. They are wonderful to have, but what is not so wonderful is the building maintenance and building upgrade that comes with that.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, school officials and district directors had talked about a 10-year plan for upgrades to the schools. The Sun Journal asked Healey about the status of the plan and asked if funds could have been put aside over time in a reserve or capital improvement plan account in anticipation of heating and ventilation system problems in the three older elementary schools.

He responded in an email: “In the five years I have been superintendent we have eliminated or reduced the CIP budget at the recommendation of the town representatives that have served on the school budget committee, in order to reduce the tax impact on citizens. Without a consistent CIP it makes it impossible to even carry out the basic maintenance needs. Additionally, RSU 16 focused on the COVID-19 pandemic for the better part of three years.”

Seekins told the Sun Journal: “As it yields true with any audit for a school, you end up with far more facility improvement measures than the RSU can financially absorb. With that said, you end up with a plan, in this case it was identified as a 10-year plan. I would say the only issues were that there were far too many needed improvements than the current budget could sustain. This left the boilers, steam controls and ventilation to be addressed at a future project.”

Seekins said the three schools are now structurally sound, and updating the heating and ventilation systems appears to be a better financial move than attempting to build a new school for all elementary students, which had been suggested.

If the bond does not pass, Healey said he will pray “for a mild winter without any catastrophic heating issues.”

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