January 9

RSU 11 board will decide how to rezone students

The board should vote Feb. 6 on whether to close Randolph’s T.C. Hamlin School.

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

GARDINER — The school board of Regional School Unit 11 is likely to make a decision at its next meeting about reconfiguring the district, a move that could include cosing T.C. Hamlin School in Randolph.

click image to enlarge

CRUNCH: Fourth grade teacher Sarah Hanley instructs Thursday in a room at the Helen Thompson School in West Gardiner that once served as the school’s art classroom.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

SQUEEZE: Fourth grade teachers Gretchen Nickerson, left, and Sarah Hanley instruct in a room at the Helen Thompson School in West Gardiner that is divided by a temporary wall. Nickerson teaches in the former life skills space while Hanley uses the former art studio for their classrooms.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

At its meeting Thursday, the board discussed two options for shuffling students to address space issues in the district, which consists of Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner. The other option would be to send some West Gardiner students to Gardiner schools.

Administrators will do more research into the impact of each option on expenses and class sizes, then bring the information to the board at the Thursday, Feb. 6 meeting.

In one scenario, students living in a section of Gardiner would be sent to T.C. Hamlin School in Randolph, which is under capacity.

To ease crowding at Helen Thompson School, West Gardiner students living off High Street as far west as the Rabbit Ridge Acres subdivision would go to Gardiner’s two elementary schools, which are split by grade, with prekindergarten through second grade at Laura E. Richards School and third through fifth at River View Community School.

In the other scenario, the district would convert Laura E. Richards and River View back to kindergarten through fifth grade schools, though it’s not clear where prekindergarten would be. T.C. Hamlin would be closed, sending all Randolph elementary students to River View. The district would have to build one or two modular classrooms at Helen Thompson to provide space.

New construction in West Gardiner during the last several years has swelled the enrollment at Helen Thompson to 285 students, above the building capacity of 260. The school has had to resort to measures like putting up a temporary wall to split a classroom in two.

A few board members responded positively to the first plan.

“Of all the scenarios we’ve looked at, this is going to be the easiest to sell, I think, as opposed to closing a school,” Randolph board member Candace Avery said. “It won’t save us much money, but that wasn’t our primary goal to begin with.”

Although it would not involve closing a school, the plan would still create disruptions, said Andy Grover, a West Gardiner school board member who lives on one of the streets that would be rezoned for Gardiner’s schools. Children could be separated from their friends, for example.

Director of Operations Jon Stonier said the district would have to add a bus run, and Superintendent Pat Hopkins said she’s concerned that the population mix in the rezoned neighborhoods could change in a few years, requiring new lines to be drawn.

In the second scenario, closing T.C. Hamlin would save money, but building modular classrooms at Helen Thompson could cost up to $400,000.

Gardiner’s elementary schools would both be close to capacity, and both are on property that doesn’t allow for easy expansion, Stonier said.

Although T.C. Hamlin is under capacity — with the equivalent of about 80 full-time students in a school built for 155 — it may not be fiscally responsible to close the school when the district still has 12 years of debt payments for it, said board Chairwoman Becky Fles, who is from Gardiner.

Closing T.C. Hamlin also could upset people in Randolph, Fles said.

Board members said they needed concrete information about the implications of both scenarios in order to make a direct comparison, but they need to make a decision soon so next year’s budget can be developed.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645 smcmillan@centralmaine.com Twitter: @s_e_mcmillan
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