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Technical school proposal casts shadow on midcoast bond issues

ROCKLAND, Maine — A $25 million bond issue to build a new regional technical school is a worry to some local officials who fear the big ticket item could make voters reluctant to approve other project funding proposals on municipal ballots.

The school bond overshadows smaller yet significant bond referendums that also will be on the Nov. 8 ballot in two neighboring communities in the midcoast and others expected to be put before voters next year.

The technical center bond issue would be repaid by 19 communities. The estimate of the property tax impact varies, but in Rockland, for example, the cost would be $31 per year for a home assessed at $150,000.

Rockport Town Manager Rick Bates said the town was a little surprised when it found out earlier this year that the technical and career center bond was going to voters this year. Rockport is asking its residents to approve borrowing up to $2 million for the municipal share of a new library.

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Bates said Rockport officials learned of the technical school bond issue after deciding to move ahead with its own library project proposal.

“One of the concerns is always what is the appetite of taxpayers to take on more taxes,” Bates said.

Bates said the town will not borrow the money until private fundraising reaches $2 million, which the town will then match. He said the fundraising committee believes it can raise the money in two to three years for the two-story building, which will have about a 4,500-square-foot footprint on the town-owned property in the village where the former library was located.

The tax impact from the library is estimated at $54 annually for an average Rockport home.

Bates said he also believed the technical school project would come after the planned November 2017 bond referendum for a new Camden-Rockport Middle School. Voters in the two towns rejected a $28 million bond for that project in February 2015. The school district is working with the communities on a revised, scaled-back proposal.

Rockland has its own borrowing proposals to go before voters next month through four separate bond referendums to pay for upgrades to the sewer plant, road work, library repairs and expanding broadband internet. If approved, the borrowing will occur over the next several years after existing debt is paid down.

The largest Rockland referendum is the $10.4 million for repairs and improvements to the wastewater treatment plant and the sewer system. Much of the work would involve laying new sewer lines to separate storm drains and sewer lines to reduce the overall flow to the treatment plant.

A $2.7 million bond issue would be for repairs, reconstruction and paving of streets that include parts of Atlantic, Broadway, Limerock, Lovejoy, Old County, Park Drive, South Main, Thomaston, Talbot and Winter.

A third municipal bond seeks to borrow $1.1 million for repairs to the exterior of the library. The masonry has deteriorated, and water is leaking into the building.

The fourth bond seeks to borrow $400,000 to expand the city’s fiber optics broadband network so it would link municipal and school buildings and key downtown locations. A study commissioned last year by Rockland, Rockport and Owls Head cited economic benefits from high-speed broadband in the communities.

And possibly in early 2017, residents in the RSU 13 communities of Rockland, Thomaston, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing will be asked to approve $7 million for additions to Oceanside High School and Oceanside Middle School. No timetable has been set for a bond referendum for a new or renovated Owls Head Central School the projected cost for which is estimated at about $9 million.

The technical and career center $25 million bond would go for constructing a two-story 90,000-square-foot building on the 1 Main Street waterfront property in Rockland where the current Mid-Coast School of Technology is located.

If approved by voters, construction is expected to begin in 2017 with the new school expected to be ready for occupancy in September 2019.

Mid-Coast School of Technology Director Beth Fisher said the cost of renovating the existing facility would exceed the new construction cost and would be disruptive to teaching students over the next several years.

The current 57,000-square-foot building, which was built in 1968 as a marine repair shop, would be demolished. The Region 8 Cooperative Board purchased the property in 1976, and the vocational center opened for students in 1977. The architectural firm of Lavallee Brensinger concluded in a report to the vocational school board in January 2015 that the Rockland building was not worth renovating.


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