DEXTER - SAD 46 residents packed the Dexter Middle School cafeteria on Thursday to support a Fern Road location for the proposed construction of a new school for kindergarten through grade eight.
That support came in a nonbinding straw poll of 199 yes to 37 no. The voting was on an honor system since no one checked the names of the voters to verify they were registered voters or residents of Exeter, Garland, Ripley and Dexter.
District employees and their families who helped pack the house had received a personal invitation to attend from SAD 46 Superintendent Kevin Jordan in a letter dated July 25. Jordan asked that the district employees make every effort to be present.
Garland resident Jim Bunn expressed his frustration with the process and faulted the board for not sharing information early on about the site selection process. For 15 months, the discussions have been in executive session, Bunn said Thursday. "The biggest thing is the public has been left out ... the board has not given us enough time to think about it," he remarked. "The best thing to do is vote this down and continue the conversation."
Board chairman John Parola of Ripley defended the board's position. "I am proud of the decision we made to try to improve the schools in this district," he said Thursday. He said the board was committed to building a new school in a central location which is closer to Exeter and Garland. Elementary schools in those communities are slated to close when the new school is opened. The parcel also had some of the amenities needed such as three-phase power, according to Parola.
Joan Reed of Dexter wondered why the town-owned Ellms Field property was not selected. "It just seems to me we borrow a lot ... if we have something, I think we should use what we have," she said. The town owns about 50 acres between the athletic field and the municipal-owned golf course.
If residents had not approved the Fern Road location, Jordan said the state funds set aside for the new school would have been taken out of the funding cycle and used elsewhere in the state. SAD 46 would then have to wait as much as seven years to get back into the funding process, he said.
The district has a purchase option on three adjacent lots on the Fern Road totaling $187,000. The state would fund $44,250 for the land purchase and the remainder would be funded by the district.
To date, SAD 46 has spent $360,000 on the new school project which will be reimbursed by the state if residents approve the final project during a referendum in December or January, Jordan said. Should the referendum be defeated, the district will have to absorb that amount, he said.
Much more work is needed before the project is presented for final approval, however. Volunteers are being solicited to work on several committees for the process. Later, another straw vote will be conducted on the concept design, a process of envisioning what the school might look like, according to Jordan. Once that has been concluded, approval will be sought from the State Board of Education and district residents.
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