Minot Consolidated School on Shaw Hill Road had a boiler break in 2022 that prompted a much bigger, sometimes emotional, discussion about possible closure of the community school and how to handle Regional School Unit 16’s two other elementary schools in Mechanic Falls and Poland. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Close or keep open a community school? Pay millions or just thousands for repairs and renovations to keep schools going. Trust one consultant more than another, or yet a third analysis?

Those are some of the questions Regional School Unit 16 directors and residents have faced over the past 16 months after the furnace cracked at Minot Consolidated School in September 2022.

The problem ultimately prompted a broader look at not just the district’s three elementary schools in Poland, Mechanic Falls and Minot, but at the entire educational system, including facilities and goals, by citizens and educators alike.

But most dear to the hearts of many was a proposal to close Minot’s school in the immediate aftermath of the boiler break and to consolidate students in the two remaining schools as a long-term cost-saving solution. The plan would have caused the district to reconfigure its elementary education structure in the three towns.

Meanwhile, estimates to fix and perform necessary upgrades to the elementary schools ranged from thousands of dollars to millions, depending on the expert.

The following is a look at the issues, how it all started and where the district will go next.



In September 2022, the boiler at Minot Consolidated School broke due to a cracked plate.

Tom Seekins of Energy Management Consultants was called by then-RSU 16 Superintendent Ken Healey to come up with a solution.

Seekins was familiar with the district’s schools because he was with Siemens Industry several years ago when that firm was contracted to make energy and building improvements throughout the district.

Meanwhile, 13 space heaters were rented to keep Minot classrooms warm. It was determined it could take up to 25 weeks to get parts to repair the boiler.

A temporary steam boiler was rented in November 2022. Officials learned insurance would cover some of the costs, totaling over $90,000, due to the boiler breakdown. Burst water pipes and flooding in classrooms, the library, and the nurse’s office had to be dealt with as well.


At the school board’s November meeting, Seekins informed the district directors that the heating and ventilation systems in all three RSU 16 elementary schools needed updating.

The core of Elm Street School was built in 1954, while Poland Community and Minot Consolidated schools are each over 40 years old.

Seekins later told the Sun Journal that the three schools are structurally sound, and updating the heating and ventilation systems appeared to be a better financial move than attempting to build a new school for all the elementary students.

In December 2022, the directors approved $25,000 for a study by EMC on the cost to update the HVAC systems in all three elementary schools.

In January 2023, Seekins and EMC provided the estimate and Superintendent Healey began advocating for a $5.1 million bond to be financed over 20 years to fund the HVAC project.

“We are now in a crisis situation,” Healey said, warning that if something isn’t done, “a colossal collapse” of the Minot school heating system is possible.


In February 2023, the directors approved a districtwide vote for May on the bond.

Critics of the bond believed the reasons were right, but the financing was wrong. Town leaders in Minot and Poland objected to the life of the bond and amount of interest it would cost, which at the time was estimated at $3 million. Some critics said money should be made available for the Minot school first to fix its issues before incorporating the Elm Street and Poland Community schools into the same financial picture.

In May 2023, the $5.1 million bond proposal was defeated by four votes, 219-215.

Poland Community School at 1250 Maine St. in Poland is one of Regional School Unit 16’s three elementary schools at the center of a plan that would either consolidate into two elementary schools or require spending millions to make repairs and upgrades to maintain all three. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal


The RSU 16 Futures Tax Force was formed later that month on the recommendation of Assistant Superintendent Amy Hediger.

The 23-member task force was composed of school administrators, teachers, district school directors, elected town officials and residents. The group was tasked with focusing on matters raised at school staff and community forums.


Among the ideas that surfaced were the consolidation of elementary schools, better schedule and time management, grade level reconfiguration, and possibly combining services in order to save money in the areas of transportation, building and resource management.

Throughout the spring and summer, the task force began collecting and calculating financial data based on previous district budgets, operational costs, class sizes and spacing, transportation elements, capital improvement projects, compensation and benefits.

At the RSU 16 Aug. 14, 2023, board meeting, $17,500 was approved for AEI Consultants of Jersey City, New Jersey, to assess and provide a report on all the district’s facilities.

At that meeting, John Hawley, the district’s new director of facility operations, told the board that an assessment report on the maintenance of school facilities was done in 2011, but its recommendations had not been followed until 2016.

Hawley showed a bar graph that depicted the capital improvement spending analysis since 2016. Over $10 million had been requested for capital improvements, $3.2 million was actually budgeted, and $1.7 million had been spent from 2016-2023.

On Aug. 24, the task force released its figures for what it would take to catch up on the deferred maintenance that hadn’t been done, as well as future anticipated costs:


• If all three elementary schools were retained, it was estimated to be $8.3 million, plus the $5.1 million to update the HVAC systems, for a total of $13.4 million.

• If two reconfigured elementary schools were considered and the Minot school was closed, the estimated cost was $6.5 million plus $3.6 million to update the HVAC systems in the two schools, for a total of $10.1 million.

On Aug. 29, 16 of the 23 members of the Futures Task Force endorsed the option to reduce the number of elementary schools from three to two and close the Minot school. Five task force members chose to keep the status quo of an elementary school in each town. The vote was a nonbinding informational poll taken to give the school board some insight into the process and thinking of the task force.

Under that majority-endorsed plan, all RSU 16 elementary students would be sent to Elm Street School in Mechanic Falls, which would be reconfigured for prekindergarten through grade 2, and to a reconfigured Poland Community School for grades 3 through 5 or 3 through 6.

The option to send grade 6 to the Bruce Whittier Middle School in Poland was later rejected by district directors after an earlier 17-4 nonbinding ‘no’ vote by the task force.



The Futures Task Force submitted its final eight-page report to RSU 16 directors at the Sept. 11, 2023, meeting. Its introduction stated:

“This report summarizes the progress and outcomes of the RSU 16 Futures Task Force meetings and activities, with a focus on addressing organizational challenges and enhancing the educational experience within RSU 16 … to explore potential solutions to various issues affecting the school district, including facility needs and educational opportunities.”

The report listed issues confronting the district.

The first issue noted was “deferred maintenance needs that have contributed to the gradual deterioration of our elementary infrastructure.”

Elm Street School at 129 Elm St. in Mechanic Falls is one of three elementary schools in Regional School Unit 16 at the center of a plan that would either consolidate into two elementary schools or require spending millions to make repairs and upgrades to maintain all three. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The maintenance and conditions of the school buildings received the most mention and emphasis throughout the report.

The report stated, “While facing the reality of maintaining aging buildings, it is easy to forget our comparatively ‘newest’ high school and middle school, which is now 25 years old.”


The report’s conclusion recommended a priority capital improvement program be focused on responding to delayed maintenance, developing and improving the heating and ventilation systems across the district, and establishing “preventive maintenance measures.”

The report also recommended forming a steering committee to provide leadership and momentum to district directors during deliberations as they work toward a final decision.

Despite the task force’s internal vote, it made no recommendation in its report to the district on the number of elementary schools to retain.

Discussion arose at the district’s Sept. 11 meeting regarding the possible closure of Minot Consolidated School. Minot parent Whitney King-Buker said the impact of losing a small-town school “is really an emotional thing for children and family … it dilutes small-town atmosphere.”

The board accepted the task force’s report for future consideration.

A seven-member steering committee was created by the board at its Sept. 18 meeting, made up of new Superintendent Todd Sanders, who succeeded the retiring Healey, Hediger, Hawley, and district board Chairwoman Mary Martin of Mechanic Falls, and directors Randy Lautz and Emily Rinchich, both of Poland, and Sarah Robinson of Minot.


At the steering committee’s second meeting on Sept. 25, Hawley said the failed $5.1 million bond proposal would not have been enough to cover the cost to update the ventilation and heating systems in the district’s three elementary schools.

Energy Management Consultants did a more in-depth estimate, Hawley said, and the cost came closer to $7.4 million.


On Oct. 16, a 660-page report was made available to the RSU 16 board from AEI Consultants, the group hired to assess and provide a report on all the district’s facilities, including the elementary schools.

According to AEI, immediate needs for the three elementary schools would require about a $10,250 investment; short-term needs within the next year would require $1.3 million; and $6.8 million would be needed within the next 10 years.

AEI estimated a cost of $321,100 to update the HVAC systems in the three schools.


If only two elementary schools were kept open, AEI estimated the cost of immediate needs at $8,550; short-term needs as $1.26 million; and an investment of $5.6 million within the next 10 years. HVAC update costs for the two schools would be $297,900.

Addressing the difference in HVAC cost estimates for the three schools provided by EMC ($7.4 million) and AEI ($321,100), steering committee members said that because AEI was hired for a different purpose than EMC, it did not do a “deep dive” in the HVAC systems as EMC did.

At that same Oct. 16 meeting, Robert Klar, a Minot citizen representative on the Futures Task Force, spoke about what he had learned about the boiler breakdown at the Minot school, as well as several flooding issues there.

Klar, who develops and builds homes and custom machinery, authored a four-page report as a member of the task force titled “Executive Summary of Minot Consolidated School,” which was made available to RSU 16 administrators and directors prior to the meeting.

Jeremy Klar, a third grader at Minot Consolidated School, stands Wednesday with his grandfather, Bob Klar of Minot, in the front of the elementary school at 23 Shaw Hill Road in Minot. “I got involved in all this because of my grandson,” says Klar, a member of Regional School Unit 16’s Futures Task Force who has offered advice on the Minot school’s broken boiler. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Klar said the crack in Minot’s boiler was actually caused by a faulty pump, which overloaded the boiler’s steam pressure. The water pressure was set at 110 pounds per square inch. “It should usually run at 40 to 60 pounds,” said Klar, who studied industrial technology at the University of Southern Maine and is certified by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

Klar wrote in his report, “Boilers of this size typically have a useful life of 25 to 30 years, which can be extended with component replacements and proper maintenance, including periodic overhauls.”


Minot’s boiler was manufactured in 2013.

The report stated, “The (boiler’s) expected remaining useful life exceeds the evaluation period of 10 years.”

Klar’s summary also compared facility costs in closing the Minot school versus not closing it. The report estimated $58,150 in repairs to get the Minot school back to “functional reliability” instead of closing it.

If the Minot school was closed, the report estimated spending $88,750 to remodel Elm Street School to accommodate Minot’s students, plus $910,250 in construction costs to relocate the district’s adult education program from Elm Street School to Poland Community School, as well as a contingency amount of $182,050 to cover miscellaneous items.

Regarding the differing cost estimates to repair the Minot boiler, Klar said “root cause analysis” is often overlooked by facility consultants when determining costs. Instead of replacing the boiler, which EMC estimated to cost $2.1 million, the faulty booster pump that cracked the boiler plate should be replaced at an estimated cost of $50,000.

Klar suggested RSU 16 leaders take more time to review “the operational cost savings of consolidation versus student, teacher, and community impact.”


Steve Turner, Mechanic Falls representative to the RSU 16 board of directors, said following that Oct. 16 meeting he had been in favor of reconfiguring the elementary grades into two schools until he heard Klar’s presentation.

“Klar changed my mind,” Turner said, adding he may have changed other school directors’ minds as well.


A Steering Committee meeting report Nov. 13 stated that a worst-case scenario for the next year’s school district budget would be a $6 million increase over the current budget. The figure included: $1 million in contractual obligations (salaries and benefits); $400,000 in rising costs of fuel, utilities and related costs; $400,000 in new positions and programs to support student needs; $2 million in capital improvements; and $2 million for the HVAC work, among other costs.

On Nov. 20, directors voted unanimously to keep the elementary schools in Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland in place.

Since that vote, a Strategic Planning Team was established and charged with creating a five-year plan to include, at a minimum, “statements of mission and core beliefs, with identified goals and actions for meeting those goals. The (Strategic Planning Team) will engage the community and staff in the planning process, will report on its progress at a School Board meeting each month, and will present a draft plan for the School Board’s review, input, and eventual approval.”

Strategic Planning Team members are Superintendent Sanders, High School Principal Erik Anderson, Elm Street School Principal Jessica Madsen, instructors D’Arcy Robinson, Angela Gilbert and Jen Gagnon, Minot Selectperson Brittany Hemond, Mechanic Falls Councilor Tarsha Downing, Klar, Mechanic Falls resident Beau Fairbrother, Poland RSU 16 directors Lautz and Joe Parent, and RSU 16 Chairwoman Martin.

The district will soon begin discussions to formulate next year’s budget, with a full budget proposal presented on April 24, expected board approval on May 13, and the public budget validation referendum set for June 11.

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