PARIS — Maine School Administrative District 17 will ask voters to establish a $2 million capital improvements plan to address critical needs of several school buildings throughout the district during statewide elections this June.

In previous years’ budgets, building maintenance and repairs fell into the overall Facilities Department’s accounts, a cost center that also covers building operations and ever-increasing utilities expenses.

The move comes in the aftermath of recently closing Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris and a districtwide assessment last year which showed that four other elementary schools need overdue maintenance.

The money will establish a fund devoted to reversing a pattern of deferring maintenance that began with the economic downturn is 2008 and brought deep spending cuts to district staffing and programs.

In recent years spending in some areas has been restored, especially due to influxes of federal funding during the COVID-era. But building maintenance and upgrades remained on the back burner.

“Like many other school districts in Maine, the efforts to relieve the tax burden to their local towns have resulted in deferred maintenance for our buildings,” explained Heather Manchester in an email statement. “Given this, the school board is seeking to create a capital reserve account for facilities, that will be a separate warrant article in addition to the budget.”


A report showing the results of inspections of Oxford Hills’ elementary schools in 2023. Supplied image

The capital plan and school budget will appear as separate referendum items during state elections on June 11.

Added SAD 17 School Board Chair Troy Ripley, “While previous Administrations practice of deferring maintenance as a means to offset the district’s budget impact on local municipalities may have been noble, the independent inspection of our facilities required as part of the school construction process [for Agnes Gray and Oxford Hills Middle School] clearly portrays the consequences of just such a strategy.”

In a report issued late last year by engineering and architectural firms LaVallee Brensinger of Portland and Harriman Architecture and Design of Auburn, Agnes Gray received an overall “F” rating, citing no Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, deteriorated exterior, HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems, and lacking egress and other safety codes.

Three buildings – in Guy E. Rowe Elementary School Norway, Otisfield Community School and Harrison Elementary School – were rated F for fire protection.

Waterford Memorial School and Harrison received poor marks for exterior condition, and HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems.

Overall, Hebron, Paris and Oxford elementary schools were found to be in fair or better condition. Otisfield was rated as C+, Rowe and Waterford with Cs and Harrison as D+.

OHMS in South Paris is not only in poor condition but also overcrowded. Many of its students attend classes at a satellite campus in Oxford.

Both Agnes Gray and OHMS are on Maine Department of Education’s priority list for replacement; SAD 17 established two building committees last year to develop construction plans.

“That same report outlined 21million worth of ‘deferred maintenance’ on district facilities,” said Ripley. “This Budget reflects a new long-term approach for voter approval that makes up (over multiple years) the shortfall, and adequately funds current costs of operating 20-plus facilities in eight towns.”

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