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Site selection panel taking more time to review firms to aid with regional school

FRENCHVILLE, Maine — After much deliberation during their first meeting Thursday night, members of the Valley Unified Site Selection Committee determined they need additional time to review proposals from five architectural firms vying to help assess and pick out potential sites for a new regional school to serve communities from Madawaska to Allagash.

The 17 selection committee members are now planning to pour over the materials from the firms more carefully and to rank their choices in order of priority by Jan. 4 so that a recommendation can be made to the Valley Unified Regional Board of Directors.

In August, the Valley Unified Board — representing the Madawaska School Department and Maine School Administrative Districts 27 and 33 in the Fort Kent and Frenchville areas — learned that the Maine State Board of Education selected its proposal to build a regional pilot consolidated school. The school administrative units are now trying to find the optimal location while continuing the process of securing up to $100 million from the state to build the facility that would combine three existing high schools, integrate technical and career training, and include some post-secondary education aspects.

The Department of Education vetted and submitted proposals from five architectural firms earlier this month to the Valley Unified Board. The newly formed site selection committee, which consists of 17 members representing the various communities and interests of the three school administrative units involved, was expected to review the proposals and recommend one of the firms Thursday to the Valley Unified Regional Board of Directors. Instead, they found themselves raising more questions and concerns.

The meeting began with some tension after four of the 17 committee members said they had not received the proposals or had missed the link to the proposals included in an email sent to them about Thursday’s meeting.

“The proposals raised a lot of questions [and] if you haven’t looked at this, you will be at a severe disadvantage,” said Lester Ouellette, a community member representing the Madawaska School Department.  

However, Gerald Clockedile, the regionalization facilitator for the Valley Unified Board who also was overseeing Thursday’s committee meeting, assured the members that all had been emailed the link to the proposals.

“I feel like I am at the voting booth without knowing who is running,” countered Scott Voisine, dean of community education for the University of Maine Fort Kent. “I am not comfortable doing that because I didn’t get it. I do not want to be in the room during discussion, because I want to look at it with my own eyes.”

Voisine then stepped out of the room to avoid hearing the other members’ opinions to prevent him from being “biased” when doing his own research.

Community member at large, Paul Cyr said more than a dozen times that he did not feel well enough informed yet to make a recommendation.

Clockedile pointed out the previously drafted timeline with the group and stressed that if the committee and board do not select a firm, and have the potential sites surveyed by the Maine Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection “by late May, then we are going to be behind a year.”  

Cyr said, “I don’t see any reason why we can’t get additional information and meet again in the new year to give our recommendations. We’re talking about a project that could potentially be a $100 million school, the last thing we want to do is make a rushed decision.”

Clockedile responded that he asked the Department of Education the same question and said he was told to “make a decision based on the information given.”

In the end, the facilitator requested that each member of the committee carefully review what information they have at hand and then send an email to him ranking their choices by Jan. 4.

Armed with the results, the Valley Unified Board of Directors then will conduct interviews with representatives of the firms before selecting one to work with the selection committee on narrowing down and making recommendations on a location for the proposed school.

He said the interviews with the firms are intended to answer any questions raised by the site selection committee and by members of the regional board.

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