To the editor:
Last fall, the voters of Winslow handily (54 percent to 46 percent) defeated a bond that, had it passed, would have have allowed for the construction of a Performing Arts Center (PAC) and add a seventh and eighth grade wing to Winslow High School. Unfortunately, the Winslow School Board did not heed the powerful message sent by voters. The board decided to make no changes to the membership of the building committee created to devise a plan of action and to retain the architect who designed the failed renovation. Unsurprisingly, the building committee school board, and architect have engineered a new plan (PAC PLAN II) that is essentially the same as the one soundly defeated in November. Despite the fact that the Winslow Town Council voted that PAC Bond II “ought not to pass,” the school board is asking the voters of Winslow to approve an $8.1 million bond (over $10 million when considering interest payments) to build a PAC and renovate the high school. There are many reasons why this is an idea the voters of Winslow should not embrace.
Since November, the building committee, school board, and town council have all been working very hard to come up with a solution to our school infrastructure issues. Regrettably, the members of the building committee and our school board appear far more concerned with doubling the seating in our Performing Arts Center than providing state of the art school security measures, Advanced Placement labs, seating in the renovated gym, technology and cafeteria improvements (to name only a few). These are major mistakes. Prioritizing seats in a PAC above needs that would improve education for the entire student population in Winslow is not the direction we should be moving in. We need a plan that supports ALL students in Winslow, not just a select few.
Many of us here in Winslow would prefer to renovate Winslow Elementary School and to create a K-8 school. This belief is based on the very different needs and stages of development of adolescent and pre-adolescent students. Young adults should not be attending the same school as seventh graders. The K-8 alternative is a viable opportunity that has been estimated to cost $12 million at one point and $9.7 at another point. In fact, architect Stevie Blatt even said “We probably could build a K-8 building for $7.83 million” at one one building committee meeting. Since none of these cost estimates were analyzed by an independent third party, we really have no idea what we could or could not do given the budget set by the town council. The K-8 option is an opportunity that needs to be explored in full but unfortunately has not been given a fair hearing due to the fact that it would not allow for the building of a PAC which is the driving motivation behind the current masterminds of this project.
One major difference between this bond and the one we voted on in November is that this bond allows the building committee and school board much more flexibility in spending the funds as they see fit. There is nothing in the PAC Bond II ballot question that forces the school board and building committee to spend the money on the building specifications the building committee has outlined to the voters. It is not a prudent idea to allow spending of this magnitude to be unchecked by the town council. A blank check allowing carte blanche to the building committee spending is a scheme far too risky for the voters of Winslow to endorse.
PAC Bond II does not provide the best path for us to move forward as a community. We need to go back to the drawing board, form a new building committee, hire a new architect, and take a fresh look at our school configuration options. These options should not include seating in a PAC at the expense of other, more worthwhile, educationally related items that enhance all students’ learning. The K-8 option should also be fairly and fully vetted by the new building committee and new architect. For these reasons, I urge the voters of Winslow to reject PAC Bond II on June 12. We can do better.
Phil St. Onge
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