News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, October 24, 2013
Board approves pre-K program, renovation concept
Preliminary plan will add two classrooms

by Anne Berleant

The school board approved, in concept, the general outline of a pre-K program and a renovation to house it at its October 9 meeting.

“The constituency would like some kind of stamp by the board,” said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt. “I, personally, am for it.”

Principal Della Martin asked for the board vote after discussion of a renovation plan, presented by Rick Malm of Lewis + Malm Architects, and the basic program details.

While viewing both favorably, the board was reluctant to hold a vote before nailing down the approximate cost and details of the program. Malm estimated the renovation at $208,000, including furnishings.

“The goal is to get an idea of the total costs,” said Chairman John Richardson.

The program would begin in 2014-15, with a construction window of two months next summer.

“Do we want a pre-K or not? Are we in favor of a renovation or not?” Jan Snow said. “We can back out at any time.”

The board voted 4-0-1 to grant concept approval to the pre-K program and renovation plan. Ben Wootten abstained, stating, “I don’t know what I’m voting for.”

Martin outlined a full day, every day program, with students bused to the YMCA daycare center on South Street in the afternoon, if needed. Parents would have the option of enrolling children for a half day, with the “nuts and bolts” of the program held in the morning. The program would use the Maine Department of Education early childhood curriculum.

Hurvitt estimated the cost at around $90,000, which would cover the salaries and benefits of two masters of education level teachers. If an ed. tech. were needed, the cost would rise. No additional bus would be required.

In discussing the program, Wootten stressed what constitutes a successful pre-K program.

“A lot of favorable outcomes are predicated on pretty aggressive outreach to parents,” he said, including regular home visits. Martin said that the school would use the resources of local organizations Child and Family Opportunities and Child Development Services to locate potential preschoolers, and that home visits by teachers “would be part of the job description.”

Wootten said that the staff and school should do the outreach.

The importance of home visits is true of programs “targeted to low income, low achieving families,” said Jan Snow. “That might not be our population.”

“That’s the part of the population that gets the most benefit,” replied Wootten.

Of the current K-8 school population, 37 percent are on the free or reduced lunch program, Martin said.

A 2012 town meeting straw poll favored a pre-K program at the school 176-104. Since that time, the board has weighed different proposals, including joining existing programs or collaborating with area schools also looking into pre-K.

After the board decided on a BHCS-based program, it was faced with the space constraints of the existing building. The school population has increased in the last five years from a 2008 low of 196 students to its current 240, and has no spare classrooms.

The board considered both portable classrooms and an addition—that came with a $2 million price tag—to join the two wings of the building, before asking Malm, who designed the 1991 addition, to devise a renovation using the existing school space.

“It’s important to demonstrate to the community that when investing [in the school], we’ve utilized every cubicle of breathing space in the building,” said Annie Rice.

The renovation plan requires “a lot of shuffling and a minor amount of renovation,” said Malm, with possible asbestos abatement required.

A plan to renovate first-floor locker rooms into two changing rooms and a storage room would cost an additional estimated $60,000.

The board will review a more detailed program budget, presented by the pre-K committee, at its November 13 meeting.

In other business, the board unanimously approved sole bidders M.E. Astbury & Son for 2013-14 snow plowing at $365 per storm and $100 per hour for additional snow removal, and Jim LaCasse for sidewalk shoveling at $115 per storm.

Members also approved Hurvitt to “hire and inform” basketball coaches, despite Susan Keenan’s concern over the boys coach (“There was too much heartbreak last year,” she said, without elaborating.). The vote was 4-0-1 (Keenan).

Finally, the board unanimously approved a $5,000 grant from Maine Children’s Growth Council for BHCS to be an early learning center demonstration site, or “hub,” Martin said, for educators from neighboring preschools to meet and/or share professional development services.

The grant, Martin said, “comes from an overall government fund for pre-K interests.”

Upcoming meetings:

Union 93 Board, Tuesday, November 12, 5:30 p.m., Penobscot Community School;

Blue Hill School Board, Wednesday, November 13, 5 p.m., BHCS