The Oxford Hills community was shocked Monday, but not surprised, when Maine School Administrative District 17 abruptly closed Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris due to long-standing code violations. Students will attend classes in three other locations starting Feb. 26.

PARIS — The hammer that people in Oxford Hills have dreaded for years finally fell in spectacular fashion during Maine School Administrative District 17’s school board meeting Monday night.

Agnes Gray Elementary School at 170 Main St. in West Paris, built in the late 1800s, has been deemed uninhabitable due to multiple safety failures: lack of adequate fire protection and functional emergency exits; outdated and poorly functioning plumbing and electrical systems; exterior degradation, including the roof that sheds decayed shingles during poor weather; exterior and interior stairwells that are not up to code; and boiler that is years beyond its serviceable life.

At the meeting, several people broke with emotion as they spoke, including West Paris Director Veronica Poland, whose children attended Agnes Gray, and Oxford Director Shauna Broyer, whose young children attend school in Oxford.

“I wouldn’t want to see them have to leave before the school year is out,” Poland said, her voice tightening. “It’s disturbing to see this …. Never do I think we should put the kids in jeopardy.”

“I am overwhelmed,” Broyer said, addressing the staff members in attendance. “I am so sorry this is going on. You’re all here tonight and sat through this whole crazy discussion. And you’re here for the kids.”

“It’s a testament to them,” Poland added somberly. “They stick together.”


“I appreciate you taking the students’ safety seriously, and I thank those of you who recognize the staff’s safety,” one educator tearfully told directors. “Because if something were to happen, you know we would be the last people to get out and that means something to us.”

SAD 17 initiated the process to replace Agnes Gray, along with Oxford Hills Middle School, seven years ago. The Maine Department of Education added both schools to its priority list for replacement eligibility in 2022.

Taking the long view that a new school would eventually be built in West Paris, going back at least a decade, budgeting for maintenance and improvements has not been a priority of previous district boards and leaders.

As necessary repairs were deferred, new and sometimes more critical failures began to add up.

Now, families, educators and community members have an empty, unsafe school.

During a Zoom call with various media Tuesday afternoon, Superintendent Heather Manchester made it clear that once the specific details of last year’s inspection were presented, it was obvious the benefits of short-term expediency have been endangering a community of children. The time had come to stop bargaining with potential tragedy.


“We first got a high level report, but we got the very specific report last week,” she said. “… I was hoping we would be able to hang on for a longer period of time. It was pretty clear last night that putting safety of staff and students first … we had no choice but to close the building.”

With no good answers for West Paris, finger pointing and far-out accusations are accumulating on social media.

Many residents, stunned by the suddenness of the school closure, questioned why it could not be delayed until the end of the school year.

Some remarked that the move is part of a larger, surreptitious plan to eliminate any elementary school for West Paris children.

Others pointed out that inspections of all the district’s schools occurred over the summer and the just-announced information was gathered months ago, yet the doors of Agnes Gray opened in September like they have every year since the 19th century.

A few posters stated that the townspeople’s ability to respond before the board voted was taken away because the meeting agenda was not made public.


During Monday night’s workshop and meeting, representatives of LaVallee Brensinger Architects of Portland addressed directors with the findings from their inspection of the two-story building on Main Street. They said flatly that the building is not safe to be occupied by students or staff.

Representatives Joe Britton Jr. and Lance Whitehead also advised the board about possible next steps. They estimated the cost to remedy immediate problems would be about $657,000 and require at least several months to complete.

To tackle all the school’s failures, they said it would require spending $4.5 million over five or more years.

That would cover replacing the entire roof system, exterior ramps and stairways, all plumbing lines and fixtures, renovating all bathrooms, improving kitchen equipment, acquiring an emergency generator, installing three-phase power, upgrading the fire alarm system, replacing smoke detectors and updating exterior lighting.

The Maine Department of Education’s list of school construction projects has Agnes Gray school targeted for replacement in 2030, give or take a year.

Agnes Gray’s staff was briefed by Manchester earlier in the day that the school would likely be closed within hours.


Following the Feb. 19-23 break, students in grades 1 through 6 will transfer to either Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway or Paris Elementary School. Prekindergarten and kindergarten students will continue attending the Legion Memorial Elementary School on Kingsbury Street in West Paris.

School board directors approved the administration’s plan, voted to close Agnes Gray immediately and authorized Manchester to organize and institute a remote learning plan to cover the school days between Wednesday and the start of February break.

Manchester announced to families early Tuesday that there would be no school in West Paris and Agnes Gray will not reopen.

Administrators set up a remote education center Tuesday for the school’s educators use as students prepare for remote learning.

Also Tuesday, West Paris Selectman John Eli White, who is a member of the School Construction Committee for West Paris, posted on the West Paris Community Facebook page that he invited all school board directors and building committee volunteers to attend Thursday’s Select Board meeting at 5 p.m. at Town Office at 25 Kingsbury St.

No agenda for the meeting was available and White did not return messages left for him by Tuesday night.

The West Paris Building Committee includes educators, administrators and school board directors and community members. They are: Sarah Timm, Nick DiConzo, Jenn Chafin, Hunter Rowell, Sarah Otterson, Adrienne Abbott, Veronica Poland, Andrew Merrill, John Eli White, Megan Roy, Peter Wood, Lewis Williams, Eric Liimatta, Donna Marshall, Samantha Armstrong, Jason Lampert, and Heather Manchester.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.