By Walter Griffin of the News Staff - AUGUSTA - The State Board of Education gave its unanimous approval Tuesday to a proposed $30.5 million consolidated school for Dexter, Exeter and Garland.
Board members commended SAD 46 representatives for their presentation, the environment friendly design of the school and the decision by the member communities to consolidate their elementary programs into a single school.
The board approved the idea of building the pre-kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school off Fern Road in Dexter.
"We support it because it’s such a good story and you’ve done everything right, including the consolidation," said board chairman James Carignan after the district’s presentation.
Building the new school will result in the closing of two smaller schools in Dexter and elementary schools in Exeter and Garland.
Dexter Middle School houses 235 pupils, the Dexter Primary School has 287, the Exeter Consolidated School, 49, and Garland Elementary School, 79 pupils. The schools are using portable classrooms because of space problems.
Should the school be built, SAD 46 will be left with three school buildings: Dexter High School, the Tri-County Technical Center and the new consolidated school.
Now that the state board has approved the project, the next step will be a district referendum on the proposal scheduled for March 27. And if last month’s straw vote of 119-12 in favor of the new school can be viewed as an indication of the support of the community at large, the future of the school appears strong.
"That’s what we’re anxious for," SAD 46 board chairman John Parola said after Tuesday’s vote. "We’re hopeful that we have the support."
According to Superintendent of Schools Kevin Jordan, the 115,000-square-foot school is designed to house 800 pupils and should be large enough to handle the district’s needs for decades. The school will be on a 50-acre site that was formerly part of the Fern Farm, a family farm that has been part of the community for more than a century.
"They’re excited to have us on their property," Jordan said of the Ferns.
The two-story building will have separate wings for younger and older students with pre-kindergarten through second grade in the first floor wings and third- through eighth-graders in the upper wings.
Jordan described the school design as providing "a neighborhood feel in a bigger building."
The school also will have a gymnasium and room for offices for the superintendent and special education department. A local family foundation has pledged $400,000 toward a wellness center and expanded gymnasium. The district expects to save $80,000 a year in energy costs by heating the building with hardwood chips. An oil furnace will serve as backup.
In response to questions from the board, the design team from Portland-based Stephen Blatt Architects said the wood boiler would be similar to those used in Vermont schools. As part of their training, trucking students at a technical center would be used to deliver the wood chips to the school.
Jordan said the decision to consolidate the elementary and middle schools came about after the district was unable to find a good match for a consolidated high school. He noted that Exeter and Garland were "kind of bedroom communities for Bangor," and increasing in population.
While he acknowledged that "there’s still a small faction of people that like that little school for their community," Jordan said that in the end the major selling point of a consolidated school was a promise of equity for every community.
"We spent a lot of time making sure that whatever was offered at Dexter was offered to everyone," Jordan said. "It was the best choice
for us to do, building a school for the whole community. … We know in the long run that all our children will be treated equally."
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