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Valley Unified Regional Services Center Board discuss site selection plan

MADAWASKA, Maine — Discussion regarding the new Valley Unified Regional Services Center High School continued this month with members of the Valley Unified Board approving a site selection process, unveiling a website for the public to follow the process, and electing three additional officer positions on the regional board.

More than 40 members of the public attended the board’s latest meeting at Madawaska High School on Oct. 9 to raise their concerns about the possible location of the proposed regional high school to serve students from Allagash to Madawaska.

The Valley Unified Board is made up of 10 members from the three St. John Valley school districts who learned in August that the Maine State Board of Education selected their proposal to build a pilot consolidated school combining three high schools, integrating technical and career training and including post-secondary education aspects.

The Valley Unified proposal beat out seven other regional groups who applied. More work needs to be done, but upon final approval, the state has offered up to $100 million to build the school.

On Oct. 9, Gerald Clockedile, regionalization facilitator for the board, presented a proposed site selection process that involves creating a committee comprised of members from all communities within the Valley Unified Regional Services Center.

“It is recommended that these members represent a broad spectrum of each of the communities, including local governments and citizen leaders as well as educators and business people,” according to the site selection criteria that the Valley Unified Board ended up approving Tuesday.

Members of the regional board stressed during the Tuesday meeting that the site selection committee would only be advisory. Officials expect to have the selection committee members in place within the next month. MSAD 27 Superintendent Ben Sirois, who also is executive director of the Valley Unified Board, will appoint a facilitator to work with the selection committee.

“The committee will also work closely with the engineering firm hired to work within the Maine State rules for school construction, assuring that the recommended site or sites are compliant with those rules,” Sirois said.

The Valley Unified Board will advertise soon for a firm or individual to help review and assess potential sites for the new high school. The selection committee then will be charged with recommending to the regional board which of the applicants is best suited for the task.

The selection committee will work with that firm in an attempt to come up with a consensus for a single site or recommend more than one site for the regional board to consider. At least seven members of the regional board will need to vote in favor of the location, and the State Board of Education will have final approval.

While this process is likely to start before the end of the year, the analysis and review work is not expected to be done before late spring or early summer 2019, according to officials.

According to a list of criteria for evaluating potential sites that must be met to obtain approval by the State Board of Education, the property must have enough land available on which to build sufficiently sized education facilities and provide safe access to school buses, service and delivery vehicles, and private vehicles. The property also will need to have sufficient room for parking for staff, visitors and “reasonable community use.” It also will have to be big enough to include recreation areas and playing fields.

One provision also stresses “minimum travel distance for the maximum number of students.”

“We don’t want to mess with our babies and little ones and have them traveling longer distances than they already do,” Sirois said at the meeting Tuesday night. “We remain committed to an elementary school remaining in each district.”

The location also will require preliminary approval by various state and federal agencies, including the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Transportation, and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

Other criteria involve proximity to utilities such as water, sewer, electricity and fiber optic service; avoiding direct access onto and from high speed or heavily traveled highways; and avoiding extensive land work, long driveways and environmental challenges.

The site selection committee will have 17 people on it — nine community members, three business partner representatives, two university representatives, and three Valley Unified Board members.  

The number of community members from each school system will be based on each system’s total student population. MSAD 27, which serves the communities of Fort Kent, Wallagrass, New Canada, St. John, and St. Francis, currently has a student population of 865. MSAD 33 serves 232 students from St. Agatha and Frenchville; and the Madawaska School Department serves 436 students. Therefore, there will be four community members from MSAD 27, three from the Madawaska School Department, and two from MSAD 33.

The school boards from the respective systems will appoint the community members but town managers from member communities are being asked to help identify prospective members and share their recommendations with the school boards. The school boards are expected to make their selections in November.

The three business partner representatives, one from each school system, will be appointed by agreement among the superintendents.

The presidents of the University of Maine at Fort Kent and Northern Maine Community College will each select one person to represent those institutions on the the selection committee.

And finally, the school boards of each school administrative unit will appoint one school board member each to serve on the panel, bringing the count up to 17.

During the Oct. 9 meeting the Valley Unified Board members elected three of their own to serve as officers on the regional board — Gisele Dionne as vice-chair, Lisa Bernier as secretary, and Lucie Tabor as treasurer.
The board also announced the creation of a web site for area residents to learn more about the process as it unfolds: http://valleyunified.blogspot.com/2018/10/site-selection-process-approved.html

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