Ending weeks of suspense, Machias endorses former Columbia supermarket for vocational school


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While convinced that a former car dealership was the best option, the Machias school committee voted Monday night to approve a plan shared by other area school districts to renovate a former Columbia supermarket into a center. professional for high school students.

The vote ended weeks of suspense over whether Machias and a handful of school districts in Western Washington County could agree on the location of a skills training center that would double the number of skills training programs and technical available to students in the region.

In January, Machias, Washington Academy, SAD 37, Cherryfield and Moosabec CSD received a $ 2 million conditional grant from the state Department of Education to purchase and renovate a building that districts could use for a vocational center. . SAD 37 includes Addison, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington and Milbridge, while Moosabec CSD includes Beals and Jonesport.

The state’s caveat, however, was that districts had to come to a consensus on a site, and it set a deadline to do so by the end of this month or it would revoke the grant and send the money elsewhere. Three of the districts have expressed support for the former Columbia supermarket in that city’s Four Corners neighborhood, but Washington Academy and Machias favored the former Blueberry Ford dealership on Route 1 in Machias.

“You can’t always get what you want,” said Scott Porter, superintendent of AOS 96, who understands Machias. He said Monday evening that the city’s school board and its elected officials had spent “hours” deliberating on the decision for several days before deciding it should approve the Columbia site, which, like the concession, is vacant. for a few years.

“They really believe the Ford site is the best site” for the types of programs the trade center will be offering, Porter said, which includes welding, heavy equipment maintenance, auto repair and automotive development. early childhood.

“Most importantly, we needed to preserve these funds for the students in these school districts,” he said.

Anguish over whether the group would reach consensus or lose the grant escalated last Thursday when districts gathered at Narraguagus High School in Harrington to deliberate publicly on the matter, but Machias ended up saying he had still need more time to think about it. Chris Lyford, chairman of the Washington Academy board, told the meeting that East Machias private academy would not be the only hurdle for the dealership and would follow the old supermarket site if that was what other school districts wanted.

Machias School committee members left the meeting on Thursday with the intention of meeting as a committee on Monday to make a final decision.

Ron Ramsay, superintendent of SAD 37, said Monday evening that by reaching consensus, however difficult it may be, the project partner school districts are helping to strengthen the county’s future. There are currently vocational programs available at Narraguagus and Machias Memorial High Schools and Washington Academy, but the new center will have programs that some area students now travel to in Ellsworth or Bucksport.

“I’m very happy that we can now go ahead and build this facility for our children,” Ramsay said, adding that he would have supported him if the districts had favored the old Ford dealership instead.

The cost of acquiring and then renovating either site was projected by a consulting architect to be around $ 1 million, with the Columbia site expected to be around $ 40,000 cheaper overall. The dealership would have cost more to buy but less to renovate, while the old supermarket would cost less to buy but more to renovate, Portland architect Lyndon Keck told district officials on March 11.

He said none of the sites were ideal and either would likely be adequate for about 12 to 15 years. This planned lifespan would give districts time to apply for a grant to build a new skills training center somewhere in western or central Washington County that could cost 10 times as much but would likely last over 50 years. Keck told the group.

Ramsay said Monday that when districts applied for the grant last summer, they hoped to have a satellite professional center ready for use by September.

But now he said, “I don’t believe it will be possible. This has been my experience over time, it never goes as fast as you would like.

Ramsay said that at this point he believes it will likely take September 2020 before a new vocational training center can open in the vacant supermarket.

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