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Dover-Foxcroft officials asked to think about broadband possibilities

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DOVER-FOXCROFT — More than a year ago the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council (PCEDC) began to utilize $120,000 awarded from the Office of the Maine Attorney General for broadband internet planning by working with Axiom Technologies of Machias to conduct a survey across the region to help develop a regional technology plan designed for economic and community development.

During a Jan. 22 meeting of the Dover-Foxcroft selectmen, PCEDC Executive Director Chris Winstead said about a year before he met with them prior to the survey. “I came to you and I asked if you would be part of a countywide broadband assessment,” Winstead said. He then said discussions with town officials across the county indicated the need for increased access to broadband.

“Before we address the problem we need to address where we are as a county,” Winstead said. He said over 400 residents and about 100 businesses responded to the survey, which was conducted online and through paper forms to help those lacking high speed internet. The data resulted in a regional technology plan as well as a digital inclusion and regional workforce plan — both of which are scheduled to be posted at www.pcedc.org in the future.

“What the plan has identified for us is there is not one possibility for all our communities,” Winstead said. He then showed the Dover-Foxcroft portion of the regional technology plan, which indicates coverages available in town through providers and total costs for extending wireless access to reach more rural portions of the community and putting in a more permanent fiber network extending about a mile from the center of town. The costs are estimates but have respective totals of $151,000 (including hardware/materials on the tower, engineering and labor for the tower, equipment/materials for subscribers, installation labor and backhaul) for 100 customers and a little more than $1.9 million for the network.

While the cost estimates could be covered in part by grants and loans and working with Spectrum on a new franchise agreement to potentially expand the service coverage area, Winstead said the figures are listed to help towns start a conversation on broadband needs and wants. “I think the assessment as a tool allows us to be strategic and plan our vision,” the PCEDC executive director said.

“I would say you would see us being the conductor for broadband in the county,” Winstead said. Another regional technology plan recommendation calls to create a working group to determine the need for an alternative solution for residents living outside of the center of town with less than optimal service.

Winstead mentioned the Dover-Foxcroft meeting was the first of a dozen-plus scheduled for the next month. “What is really valuable about this is it starts to create the vision,” he said.

“How can we be supportive and what the are next steps you need from us,?” Select Vice Chair Cindy Freeman Cyr asked Winstead.

The PCEDC executive director said the sessions with the selectboards will “really start the conversation and see what some solutions will look like.” Winstead said the possibilities may include the expansion of wireless access and installation of fiber networks.

He asked the selectboard “to be committed advocates for broadband.” Winstead said the town could help by hosting public sessions on the topic, and the board can “be thinking of what someday your vision will be for Dover-Foxcroft.”

In other business, the selectboard met with RSU 68 Superintendent Stacy Shorey and Foxcroft Academy Head of School Arnold Shorey for the annual updates on the pre-kindergarten to grade 8 school district and secondary school serving Dover-Foxcroft from the spouses.

“For budget we are already in the throes of that, our first finance committee meeting is Jan. 31,” Stacy Shorey said. She said plans are to keep staffing at similar levels for 2018-19 but the teacher’s association and district officials are in the process of negotiations and health insurance costs are always a factor in building in the budget.

When asked, Shorey said at the Oct. 1 enrollment count there were about 720 students or a few more than one year prior. She said the SeDoMoCha School complex has a capacity for about 800 pupils.

Freeman Cyr asked about the status of Atkinson.

“They are still negotiating with SAD 41 to get out of the district there,” Shorey said about the Milo-based school unit. She said Atkinson officials are hoping to bring a withdrawal question to residents for a vote n the spring.

The superintendent said Atkinson students would have school choice in the first year after withdrawing. “Ultimately they would like to join us,” she said.

“We are working on becoming an IB (International Baccalaureate) School and we are working on the authorization for next year,” Arnold Shorey said. “IB is a stamp that you are ready for college,” as interested students would take IB classes with a focus on high level thinking and are writing intensive.

“We would be the fourth school in Maine to be authorized as an IB School,” Shorey said. Foxcroft Academy would be the the only IB school north of Cumberland County.

He said the secondary school is working with an educational institution in Prague, Czech Republic to develop an American-style curriculum. “One of the unique things we are going to make happen is an exchange program,” as students and teachers from Foxcroft Academy and the school in eastern Europe would spend a semester on the other continent.

“We are continuing to work with the Libra Foundation, the plan is Foxcroft Academy will manage the ice rink that is being built and some sort of indoor sports facility,” Shorey said, with the site located just up West Main Street from the school.

He said each sports facility will be shared with the community and will benefit the local economy. Shorey said the ice rink would open first, possibly before the end of the year as Foxcroft Academy continues to work with the Libra Foundation in the months to come.

He said a youth ice hockey program may start soon after the rink opening, and down the road Foxcroft Academy may revive its ice hockey team which could function as a cooperative program with other area high schools. Shorey said plans for the other sports facility include an indoor track, providing a space for community members to walk or run on.

Town Manager Jack Clukey said the various committees of the selectboard have been meeting to go over preliminary budget requests for the next fiscal year. “Tentatively the first meeting of the budget advisory committee will be Wednesday, Feb. 28 and they will set the schedule after that,” he said.

In his report Clukey said work on the Park Street field was finished in early December with Gordon Construction of Sangerville carrying out the improvements, including new infield mix and sod for the spring, by donation.

“The work still got done in early December when you wouldn’t expect it to get done,” Clukey said. “We should basically have a brand new infield that will be ready in the spring for Little League Baseball.”

“That work there exceeded well over $10,000,” Clukey said. The selectmen then said the town should look to fund a sign at the field to thank Gordon Construction for the contribution.

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