A rendering of the proposed new pre-K to 5 elementary school in Owls Head to serve Owls Head and South Thomaston. (Image by Merriam Architects)
A rendering of the proposed new pre-K to 5 elementary school in Owls Head to serve Owls Head and South Thomaston. (Image by Merriam Architects)

Residents of Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Owls Head and Cushing will have the opportunity on February 28 to weigh in on a school reorganization and reconstruction plan for Regional School Unit 13. The proposal, which passed the 10-member school board unanimously, will be paid for through future savings from increased efficiencies and consolidations, according to school officials. There will be a public hearing on the “Schools of Our Future” initiative at Oceanside High School on Thursday, February 16, at 6 p.m.

“Our expectation is that this won’t affect people’s property taxes or add to the budget,” said RSU 13 business manager Peter Orne. “There’s just been so much inefficiency going on here, and I think they’ve been stuck with these buildings, stuck with the inefficiencies. We’re really looking to do this like a business, which is paying for it ourselves.”

Voters will be asked if they favor authorizing Regional School Unit 13 to issue bonds of up to $23.2 million for the purpose of renovating Oceanside Middle School — grades 6 to 8 — in Thomaston, renovating and building a new addition for Oceanside High School — grades 9 through 12 — in Rockland, and constructing a new PreK to grade 5 school on the site of Owls Head Community School to accommodate students from Owls Head and South Thomaston. The project includes the demolition of the existing Owls Head School and the closure of Gilford Butler School in South Thomaston, the former Lura Libby School in Thomaston, and the McLain building in Rockland. 

Renovations planned for Oceanside High School include upgrading and expanding the cafeteria to allow staff to prepare food on-site and renovating the lower level of the school to make room for more classroom space, provide access that’s compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and make the locker rooms compliant with Title 9, a federal law that protects people from discrimination based on sex.

The plan would also include construction of additional classrooms for the middle school in Thomaston, as well as upgrading the cafeteria and constructing a new bus garage with an industrial arts shop on the same site. The school currently leases its bus garage. 

The 1950s-era Owls Head Community School would be replaced with a new pre-K to 5 elementary school to serve students from Owls Head and South Thomaston. Orne said savings would be achieved through heating and lighting efficiency projects already under way at the school, as well as from closing Gilford Butler and Lura Libby schools and the former McLain School building in Rockland, where the central district offices are currently located, along with the elimination of annual lease payments on the bus garage and new efficiencies in food service. 

Speaking before an audience of municipal officials on January 19, Superintendent John McDonald said the “Schools of Our Future” plan was about not just right-sizing the school system and making efficient use of the facilities, but also implementing research-based curriculum and creating healthier learning environments. 

“First I want to say that the Schools of Our Future is not a building  plan primarily,” said McDonald. “It is a comprehensive approach, and it’s aimed at improving education in RSU 13.” 

Since announcing the plan in 2015, McDonald says the school has begun implementing new teacher training to deal with behavioral problems of students with high emotional needs as well as new teacher and administrator evaluation tools and drop-out prevention programs. The district also finally has a state-approved gifted and talented program and four new pre-kindergarten classes that are filled and fully funded by state and federal grants. 

RSU 13 Vice Chair Loren Andrews of Cushing said that the reconstruction ballot measure is badly needed because it will cost more money in the long term to keep the buildings as they are.

“There’s obviously an amazing cost if we do nothing,” said Andrews. “If we don’t spend on these facilities’ improvement, we have a lot of costs to maintain by not doing that.”