May 07, 2021

Meeting slows down vocational building plans

The superintendents of two Washington County school systems learned Tuesday from the state Department of Education commissioner that a planned vocational education building to serve several purposes will not be moving forward as fast as they had believed.

Scott Porter of SAD 102, whose towns are affiliated with Machias Memorial High School, and George Kiley of SAD 37, whose towns are affiliated with Narraguagus High School in Harrington, met with Commissioner Susan Gendron after attending a conference for the state’s superintendents in Bar Harbor.

Porter, Kiley and other members of a vocational committee drawn from the two school boards now have to backtrack on plans they have developed since winter for a $10 million vocational building with many facets.

“For whatever reason, we miscommunicated,” said Addison’s Everett Grant, the chairman of the vocational committee who also attended the meeting. “We thought we had a mandate to move forward, and we did that very aggressively.”

Believing that the state would provide fast-track funding for a facility that could open as soon as September 2005, the committee in April put a $3,000 down payment on a 38-acre property in Jonesboro on the south side of Route 1.

The committee entered into a 90-day purchase and sales agreement on April 30.

An architect was engaged to design a building, and his $10,000 fee was covered by the Washington County Economic and Educational Alliance, which has provided seed money for the project.

But Tuesday, all those so keenly involved with the project locally were told to go slower from now on.

In May the committee met with Jim Rier, a policy director for the state DOE, and Rier and his DOE colleagues got a look at the $10 million price tag.

Tuesday Rier and Gendron told the local committee that right now no project of that magnitude could be undertaken without first involving the Maine State Planning Office.

“I think miscommunication occurred,” Rier said of the need for Tuesday’s meeting with the commissioner. “We supported this concept back in January and expected to hear back on it with discussion and exchanges … their plan grew, and when we learned of the purchase of land, we realized there were some expectations that are clearly not now achievable.”

The proposed building would provide space for high school vocational training, class offerings from Washington County Community College and adult education, plus a regional educator development site supported by the state.

High school students taking the vocational courses would come from Washington Academy, Lubec, Jonesport-Beals, Machias Memorial and Narraguagus schools. Eventually, the new vocational program could handle as many as 150 students.

Narraguagus students have been traveling to Ellsworth for the Hancock County Technical Center for their vocational classes the last two years. That relationship will continue at least one more year, SAD 37’s Kiley said Wednesday.

In Machias, sensing the state wasn’t eager to work as quickly as the vocational committee planners, the SAD 102 board voted earlier this month to lease a building across Route 1A from Machias Memorial High School for up to three years or until the new building in Jonesboro actually gets built.

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