SAD 41 voters to decide on $474,000 funding package for Penquis Valley upgrades

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LAGRANGE — On Tuesday, June 13 residents of the SAD 41 communities of Atkinson, Brownville, LaGrange and Milo will be voting on an approximate $474,000 loan from the state’s school revolving renovation fund for sprinkler and elevator system upgrades at the Penquis Valley School. Under the program the state would cover 70 percent of the costs, meaning a little more than $142,000 would be paid back by the district over five years at zero percent interest.

During a public hearing on May 23 at the Marion C. Cook School, Superintendent Michael Wright said a decade ago SAD 41 participated in the school revolving renovation fund for a $1 million roof project at Penquis Valley. He said SAD 41 only had to cover $300,000 of the work, and this amount was paid back over 10 years at the zero percent rate.

Wright said with the state offering school revolving renovation fund packages for the first time in several years, district officials applied a year ago and SAD 41 was awarded a sum of $473,990 the sprinkler and elevator system upgrades.

The superintendent said under the school revolving renovation fund guidelines, the loan portion of projects totaling under $500,000 need to be repaid in five years rather than 10. For SAD 41 the 30 percent figure of $142,195 would lead to $28,439 annual payments for a half decade, with the first likely being a part of the 2018-19 budget.

“We have to close on it by this July,” Wright said, if the referendum question passes. He said the construction would take place in the summer of 2018.

“The work would be part of a bigger plan we have been working on for a few years now to bring the elementary school kids over,” Wright said as district officials have been examining long-term options to convert the facility into a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 complex and shutter the Brownville and Milo elementary schools — the facilities have been open for 30- and 60-plus years respectively — which currently house pre-K to grade 5.

Wright said the district has applied to the Maine Department of Education’s major capital school construction project fund for a $7 million two-story elementary wing on the Sebec River side of campus. “We had to send the application in by May 1 and it would be 18 months before we know anything,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition for that and we may not get anything.”

SAD 41 has been approved for a $2.1 million quality zone academy bond (QZAB) from the U.S. Department of Education, also having a 0 percent interest rate with the principal to be paid back in 25 years. Wright said these funds could be used to convert the heating system from steam to hot water and make other energy-efficiency upgrades.

He said a decision on the QZAB bond needs to be made by the end of the year, and construction with the $2.1 million “would start in the summer of 2018 as well.”

The superintendent said a half decade ago new boilers were installed at Penquis Valley and at the time estimates to fully upgrade the heating system were in the $1.2 to $1.4 million range. “Before we do anything let’s look at the big picture,” Wright said was the thought at the time and this led to architectural and facility studies on the building, which opened in the late 1960s.

“If you are going to do any renovations you have to address your sprinkler system,” Wright said. “It’s about as good a way as you can find to get the work done,” he said about the 70/30 percent cost split for the sprinkler system and elevator.

“One of the things we need to decide on is where we are going to put the elevator,” Wright said.

He said the ballpark figure for all the Penquis Valley upgrades is $10 million. Wright said ideally this would be covered by the school revolving renovation fund, the QZAB monies and the state for the elementary building addition.

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