West Paris resident Natalie Andrews asks school board member Donna Marshall if the board voted to close Agnes Gray Elementary, as it was not on the agenda for the school board meeting on Monday. Submitted by Lisa McCann

WEST PARIS — About 50 people attended the selectmen’s meeting Thursday evening to express their concerns about this week’s closing of the 1800s Agnes Gray Elementary School after an inspection report said it was unsafe for its 123 students and the staff.

Oxford Hills School District Superintendent Heather Manchester ordered it closed immediately after hearing the report at Monday night’s board of directors meeting.

One person at Thursday’s meeting called it a “kneejerk” reaction.

“Our kids have been redistributed around the district,” Nick DiConzo, who served on the MSAD 17 board for 13 years and sits on the district’s School Construction Committee,” said. “This kneejerk reaction by the superintendent has put us in a position where we just might lose everything.”

“I’m concerned about the delays in repairs,” Rodney Abbott said. “I have supported every single school budget presented, because I thought the physical needs of the schools in our district were being taken care of.”

Nick DiConzo explains to the crowd gathered at the West Paris Fire Station on Thursday what transpired Feb. 1 at the school building committee meeting with the architect. DiConzo was visibly upset as he stated that he felt the closing of Agnes Gray Elementary School was abrupt and unnecessary. DiConzo is a member of the building committee that is currently working on a new elementary school for West Paris. Submitted by Lisa McCann

Selectman John Eli White confirmed that West Paris pays just under $100,000 each month for its share to operate the school district.


White, who also serves on the Maine School Administrative District 17 School Construction Building Committee, said that at last Thursday’s committee meeting Joe Britton Jr. and Lance Whitehead of LaVallee Brensinger Architects of Portland presented a plan to build a consolidated school in the Norway area instead of a community school in West Paris.

When committee members pushed back against the proposal, White said it seemed like discussion was shut down and the presentation ended.

Reliance on the architectural firm’s inspection to close the school when it will ultimately be the financial beneficiary of constructing a new school – whether in West Paris or elsewhere – struck many as improper.

School board member Donna Marshall, right, explains to the crowd of parents and residents Thursday in West Paris that the closing of Agnes Gray Elementary School was a shock to the school board. The superintendent closed the school, and it was not voted on by the school board. Submitted by Lisa McCann

Several people thought Manchester acted without directors’ authority by deciding to close the school.

West Paris Director Donna Marshall confirmed there was no formal vote.

In an email to the Advertiser Democrat on Tuesday, board Chairman Troy Ripley of Paris wrote “the board does not ‘vote’ on every decision the superintendent makes in doing her job.


“When it comes to student safety, Heather is expected to unilaterally make the initial call; we do not, nor will we, second-guess her. She has made many calls already this year not requiring board approval votes, including snow days, extreme weather cancellations, and even a ‘hold in place’ for threats to school.”

Danny Abbott, who indicated it might be time for West Paris to leave MSAD 17 for MSAD 44 in Bethel, encouraged the group to rally and organize to fight for the children.

“We should form a committee,” he said. “We need to organize this town and invite other towns … to join us. This is going down the road where they will be facing the same thing. We need to get going.”

The inspection report cited 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.

West Paris Town Manager Joy Downing tells parents and residents at the Thursday selectmen’s meeting that she went to the superintendent’s office to try to speak with Superintendent Heather Manchester about the closing of Agnes Gray Elementary but was unable to get a meeting. Submitted by Lisa McCann

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