SAD 41 may join community solar program

MILO — Next month the SAD 41 directors are scheduled to decide if the district will join a community solar program with Ampion. The school board had the opportunity to learn more about the initiative and potential energy savings with a presentation from Ampion Community Partnerships Executive Katie Rooney during a Jan. 11 meeting at the Penquis Valley School.

“We are a renewable energy company, we help connect businesses and residents to local community solar programs to help save money,” Rooney said over Zoom. “It gives the benefit of savings without having to do the installation.”

She said SAD 41 would still pay a monthly electricity bill to Versant, but if enrolled in a community solar program then the district would be assigned to Ampion solar farms. Through the company, SAD 41 would earn credits based on the power generated by the solar farms.

There would be no cost to join and Rooney said the estimated annual savings would be nearly $2,900 through an Ampion volumetric program for eight SAD 41 meters. She said the district would be given a $1,000 donation if the school unit joins by Feb. 29.

Under a separate monetary program, SAD 41 could also join at no cost and have another near $8,500 net savings through solar credits produced on SAD 41’s behalf at the solar farms. Ampion has 17 sites across Maine and more in other states.

“The worst case scenario is the solar farm doesn’t produce energy and you don’t get credits” Rooney said when asked about potential liabilities for the district.

Superintendent Darcie Fournier said a decision on taking part in the program should be part of the agenda for the next board meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 7.

In other business, board member Joe Fleming said the policy committee is working on graduation requirements to have these clearly defined for high school students once they start their freshman year.

Fournier said in the fall a request was made to review the portfolio graduation requirement — also known as an exit project. The portfolio highlights some of the work seniors have done over four years. 

“The committee will be recommending we remove the portfolio requirement,” she said, with a first reading of the revised policy to come before the school board next month as part of the amendment process.

Portfolios had been required per district graduation policy and not the Maine Department of Education, and for some students completing the portfolio proved to be a challenge.

In her report, Fournier said Athletic Director Jason Mills was unable to attend the meeting with a boys basketball game taking place on the other side of the building but he told her the JV girls basketball season is going well.

After only having a half dozen players near the end of the first two weeks of practices in November, the decision was made to not have a varsity Penquis girls basketball team in the 2023-24 season. After looking at several options, the plan was made to instead offer a JV team.

Fournier said an 11-game schedule was developed with Mills working on adding a 12th game. “A 12-game season is very decent compared to where we were a few weeks ago,” she said, mentioning Penquis will be able to take part in a JV tourney at Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln at the end of the season

The Patriot girls had a record of 1-4 at the time of the school board meeting.

Per the Maine Principals’ Association rules, if a varsity team begins the regular season and then is unable to finish, the program is ineligible to play at the varsity level for the ensuing two years. Last month Mills said if this was to happen to the Patriot girls in 2023-24, then current freshmen could not have varsity basketball until their senior season.

He said he could not in good conscience attempt an 18-game season with only six players before potential injuries, academic eligibility checks, illness, and other factors that could impact the roster. Under a JV-only schedule, there is no punishment if a game is canceled and not made up as this level of competition is not sponsored by the MPA. 

Penquis senior Addison Conklin is playing for Foxcroft Academy after a cooperative agreement was reached with the Class B Dover-Foxcroft secondary school. 

The budget process for the district is underway, according to Fournier.

“We did start the budget process this week, we are meeting with all the administrators from the district,” Fournier said. She said she would like the budget to be finalized by late spring and not go into the early summer as has happened in some years.

Last year the annual district budget meeting was held on June 21 with the referendum for the three SAD 41 communities being held on June 29.

Fournier said Director of Facilities Dillon Watters has been gathering quotes for roof work at both Milo Elementary and Penquis Valley.

The superintendent said district officials are looking into whether the secondary school roof is under a 50-year warranty, but so far no corresponding paperwork has been found. A small section over the art room is covered through a 15-year guarantee running through 2025.

“We have not been successful in finding any other documentation for the remainder of the roof yet,” Fournier said.

Last month Watters said the entire Penquis Valley School roof will need to be replaced. He said the covering is more than two decades old and cannot be fixed and the cost could be several million dollars – Watters will know more after meeting with a contractor.

He said the roof would be replaced in sections, starting on the high school side of the complex. He said the plan is to use a synthetic material, as opposed to metal, due to the various angles and bump outs.

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