Truth be told about MET

By Maria Libby | Jul 10, 2017

Within the school district, we consistently reference a couple of common operating principles: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," and “Assume best intentions.” They are not only important tenets for the adults in our school community, but also for our students as they learn to collaborate and work with others in our democratic and civilized society. I would urge anyone who is interested in the future of the MET building to work hard to seek clarification before making assumptions and accusations.

Here is what has happened regarding the MET building’s fate over the past two years.

The 2015 middle school referendum included the renovation of MET for the functions currently in the Bus Barn but that were never intended to be there, namely the Central Office and the Zenith program. We have been desperately trying to relocate those functions so that the Bus Barn can serve its namesake purpose. We thought the middle school project was a great vehicle to address that issue and preserve the MET building at the same time. In the two public forums we had in 2014-2015 (approximately 12 members of the public attended), we concluded that saving the MET building was important to people. Including MET in the project felt like a win-win situation — we could address the middle school issues, the Bus Barn issues, and preserve the MET building. As you know, however, that vote failed by a wide margin.

We held a couple of focus groups and went on a listening tour between July 2015 and May 2016, talking to about 250 residents. During that time we heard that the price tag was too high. We also heard that while people appreciated the nostalgic value of MET, it was too expensive an endeavor for taxpayers. Therefore, the board chose to take that part out of the project when they decided to try again — the middle school was the priority after all. In January 2016, I sent a letter to the Camden Select Board to determine if the town would have any interest in the MET building should the school not need it. They chose to table that question and did not return to it, despite the numerous opportunities they had as I continued to provide updates to them about the project. I personally presented about the CRMS Middle Matters project eight times between public forums and town select board meetings during the past school year. We asked for input about MET all along the way. We had many live-streamed building committee meetings and public board meetings where MET was discussed.

In December 2016, the school board voted to demolish the MET building along with the rest of the facility, but made sure the architects knew we intended to repurpose some of the building, such as the iconic entrance. Nearly everyone we talked to felt that was a reasonable compromise — to salvage some parts of the building for use in the new facility. Five months passed. One private developer met with us in April to discuss the MET building.

After hearing about possible uses and considering them, the board let the investor know that they were not interested in pursuing them further. An idea for an Oz Museum surfaced a few times, but not in conjunction with the owners of the Oz memorabilia. The board was comfortable with its previous decision to demolish the building. At the May 18 board meeting, less than a month before the vote, a building committee member requested that the board revisit the decision regarding the use of the MET building based upon rumblings that were beginning to surface in the community. The board agreed to reconsider that decision and placed it on the next board meeting agenda, slated for June 15, two days after the vote.

Prior to the June 15 meeting, we contacted our lawyers to determine what legal issues we needed to be aware of regarding any possible future use of MET. One of the things we learned was that given the language of the referendum question (which was penned by legal counsel in early May) we would legally need to go back to referendum to do anything but demolish the building. When the referendum question was drafted, we weren’t thinking about whether the language bound us to demolition because we were unaware that the MET building would become a “rallying cry” at the last minute. The proposal we put forth to referendum included demolishing the entire facility. It was after the question went to print but before the vote that the board agreed to reconsider MET. We certainly were not trying to mislead anyone. We could not foresee the course of events that would follow.

At the June 15 meeting, the board discussed the MET building among themselves and with about half dozen community members engaged in the conversation. That was the first opportunity for the board to begin reconsidering the possibilities. Recognizing that the topic deserved more time than could be allotted that night, and recognizing that many citizens may not have known it was on the agenda, the board decided to have a meeting devoted entirely to the MET building that was more widely publicized. That is the special meeting scheduled for Thursday, July 13, at 6 p.m. in the middle school cafeteria.

Many of the people throwing out ideas and seeming to go “on the attack” about this issue have no idea of the complexity of the situation the school district is facing. There is a lot at stake for the new middle school project. Ideally, we will have an answer to the MET building by October. That is when the architects need to know the exact layout of the current campus. It matters whether the MET building remains standing. We have oriented our athletic fields on the proper axis regarding the sun without the MET building on site, but that would likely need to change if the MET building stands. That is also when the architects need to know how close the new building needs to be to the tree line, affecting the loading dock area. Whether MET stands or not is likely to impact the location and layout of the playground area.

We don’t want to compromise this project by not knowing the fate of the MET building and building around it, only to have all best intentions fall through. Can we be assured it would have an appropriate use secured by October? I don’t know. What are the risks of the unknown? It is only prudent for the board to consider all these questions, and more.

In addition to timing issues, the board needs to consider whether it should hand it over to the town, not knowing what may happen to the building. (Think Tannery, old RES site — the school district doesn’t want a building falling into disrepair on its campus.) Is there realistically enough parking for commercial use of the building? Would the town or a private investor still be interested given the numerous conditions and restrictions the school district would need to place upon any transfer (according to our lawyers)? Should the district go back to referendum to renovate it for its own use? What are the potential risks of doing that?

It is not a simple matter of “wouldn’t it be great to save the MET building?” It is complex and there is a lot for the school district to consider. Most “historic” school buildings that are repurposed are on sites that were vacated by the school district. In fact, I can’t find any examples of situations where the vacated building is repurposed on the site of the new school facility. That is where the tension lies in this situation. It is because the MET building is on the same campus as the new school. If the desire to preserve MET included moving it to a different location, then it would be a very different conversation and there likely would be no concern by the district other than timing.

This is a complex situation and the school board will consider the options carefully and critically. Critical thought about this topic is consideration. “Consideration” doesn’t equate to jumping on board with the first interesting idea that comes along. That would be foolish and the board would not be doing its job. As it stands, I only ask that those who want to preserve the building demonstrate some understanding of the complexity of this issue for the school district, in part due to the last minute timing of having this topic back on the table.

Maria Libby is the SAD 28 and Five Town CSD superintendent.

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Comments (6)
Posted by: Alison S McKellar | Jul 13, 2017 10:21

RE: Matt Dailey

Thanks, Matt. I do think there's a big difference between saying that MET will not be part of the new Middle School project and saying that it will be demolished even if there's a private party interested in taking ownership and repurposing it.

I keep going back to the comments from Maria a week before the vote, as published on Pen Bay Pilot.

"Regarding the middle school bond, the ballot question asks for your approval for the MSAD28 school board to borrow $25.2 million dollars. Many have asked if approval of this bond necessarily results in the demolition of the Mary E. Taylor wing in the existing facility. It does not. The ballot question includes additional language which places specific limits on how the school board may use the bonded money. Specifically, it is limited to actions which may be necessary to construct a new middle school and then demolish the existing facility once the new one is constructed. This language does not require demolition of the entire middle school facility, it only permits the money to be used for demolition. Determining what to do with the Mary E. Taylor wing is a separate issue."

Posted by: Matthew Dailey | Jul 13, 2017 09:58

While I wish that the media coverage of the middle school project was more extensive and exacting, mentions that the Mary E Taylor building would not be part of the new middle school project are mentioned in at least the following articles:

  • December 2015 -
  • March 2016 -
  • May 2016 -
  • November 2016 -

Posted by: Dale E. Landrith Sr. | Jul 13, 2017 07:56

The key to this is in the second paragraph of Maria's letter.  If there is any change to the project that differs from the June vote, then it must go back to the voters.  If the results of this controversy is another vote and increased costs there will be severe opposition.

Posted by: Alison S McKellar | Jul 12, 2017 21:33

It is so unfortunate that we are in this place, especially because everyone involved clearly has the very best intentions. All of us are working for what we think is the common good and I don't think any of us, on any side of it, have anything to gain personally. We are all just trying to make our community and our schools as strong as they can be.

We are going to have an amazing new school that we can all be proud of and one of the greatest things about it is that it's right in town, integrated with the community, just like it has always been.

I followed the project, attended meetings, actively engaged with the communications subcommittee, and helped to explain to people why I had come to support the Middle School bond. There was a lot to learn and I had concerns but decided that i would ultimately put my faith in the decisions of many school officials and staff whom I respect very much, for any number of reasons, including you, Maria.

It was not common knowledge that MET would be demolished. That decision was not made until December, and the decision to move the vote up from November to June did create a time crunch for those of us trying to learn about this issue and many others. It's a busy time for municipal government, as you know. The decision to demolish MET was not covered by any paper that I can find and it was not mentioned any of the websites promoting the Middle School bond.

I did not learn about this until I attended a tour a couple months later, and I found it alarming, especially after being in the building, which looked to be in good working order. I thought about changing my vote, but assumed that all possibilities must have already been explored and exhausted and that there must have been serious issues with it structurally that were not visible to me.

Slowly, I began going back over the Oak Point Survey, Select Board minutes, etc, trying to understand why the teardown was necessary, and I was surprised to learn that the building remains in good structural condition and that the footprint doesn't overlap with the new design. I talked to a few people before the vote who were concerned about the demolition of MET, but with most people, I never brought it up because I preferred to exchange emails with you and members of the various committees promoting the project. I chose to have the conversations mostly privately before the vote because I did not wish to alarm people into not voting for the school project.

Meanwhile, i learned about the countless buildings that have been renovated in Maine using historic tax credits and I learned that some of the middle school's biggest supporters, including members of the building committee, also did not wish to see MET demolished and did not feel it was necessary.

Most of the general public I spoke with before the vote had no idea that the historic MET building was slated for demolition and others had no idea of the relatively good structural condition that this part of the facility is in.

I cannot speak for everyone else, but I very intentionally waited until after the vote to be vocal about this because I had listened to you and everyone else when you said the vote was not binding for the MET building and that we could still have the conversation. We were assured that the language authorizing the bond referred only to any demolition that was necessary to build a new building, and that it did not require MET to be demolished. We all celebrated along with you when the vote passed, but when it came time to have the conversation that we were promised, we're accused of being troublemakers.

The building footprints don't overlap and the new site plan differs in only minor details with the site plan that was proposed when MET was to be left standing. If someone wants to buy the MET building and renovate it, potentially leasing half of it back to the school district for use as the admin offices and zenith program, why would that not be worth considering?

I can only speak for myself, but I did my best to "seek first to understand" and I also absolutely think you and everyone else have the best intentions. I hope you'll assume that those who question the need to tear down MET also are doing so with the best of intentions.




















Posted by: Central Office | Jul 11, 2017 10:07

With accusations flying all over FB, it sure does feel like an attack at times! The bond issue passed because 1,947 people in our two communities voted in favor and 897 voted against. With all due respect, I don't think the knowledge that the school board would reconsider the fate of the MET building represented the tipping point for the vote. Voters supported the project by a huge margin. Until mid-May, the intent of that project included the demolition of MET and that was public knowledge. As the article states, there were numerous public presentations and events. I trust that it made a difference for some people, such as you, but not the numbers that would have changed the outcome of the vote. Ironically enough, when the 2015 vote explicitly included a renovation of MET, the vote actually failed by a wide margin. I agree, it is time to move forward and allow the board, with input from the community, to reconsider the future of MET.

Posted by: Eric H Kangas | Jul 11, 2017 00:19

Maria, no one is going on the attack. I for one voted YES based on what I was told by you that the vote was for the bond issue and not for destroying the historic MET. I don't believe you you intentionally mislead myself and many others, but that's why the bond issue passed. Now it's time to move forward and save MET.

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