I wanted to be sure to get information out to parents regarding what I perceive were the results of last night's joint meeting between the Gorham Town Council and the Gorham School Committee on the proposed GHS building project. I've already heard a nice little "buzz" on social media today - so I wanted to try and get some factual information out there for folks, as best I could. I also wanted to encourage folks that have questions to please reach out to me with those questions so I can answer them accurately. Nothing worse than misinformation in the age of information for sure! ☺
The first piece of misinformation I wish to correct would be the headlines in today's American Journal that state the GHS project was "shot down"... nice headline, but not fully accurate.
Before I give a rundown of the outcomes of the meeting itself, I wanted to be sure to share all the informational materials that were shared last night with the Town Council and members of the public who attended. CLICK HERE to see the meeting agenda and resource material links found at the bottom of the agenda. There is LOTS of information there - but I think it is labeled clearly enough so folks can follow along if you'd like. If you run into questions - again - please ask!
Overall, I believe the meeting went as well as could be expected when upwards of a $72 million dollar capital building project is being requested by the Gorham School Committee to meet the needs of our overcrowded and aging high school. This is no small "ask" being made by the School Committee who thoroughly understands both the implications of moving forward with this plan and, often just as important, the implications of NOT moving forward with this plan.
As can be seen when you view the timeline (linked here) the School Committee has spent a great deal of time and energy on this topic over the past ten years in order to try and find a way to address the identified needs of our high school building (linked here) while attempting to balance those needs with the overall needs of our other school facilities (a quick list is linked here). These needs are primarily being impacted both by an increasing student population and insufficient budgetary resources to support the annual capital renewal and replacement needs of our district's facilities which are currently valued at well over $141 million dollars. I mention this value only to point out that based upon that figure, we should be reinvesting almost $ 3 million annually in these areas when budgets the past 10+ years have struggled to support $800,000.00 for these purposes. All of this is of course context for the larger discussion about what to do to address the needs of our high school.
There was some "good news" that came from last night's meeting and some "bad news", all of which I am optimistic about in regards to being able to eventually find a way to solve our growing facilities problems while balancing those needs with the implications of cost we all know too well.
The "good news" was that:
* The Town Council and School Committee made it clear that jointly there is no question regarding the need for a capital project to address the growing needs of our aging and overcrowded high school facility.
* The Town Council and School Committee made it clear that jointly there is no question that we will need to make significant investments in our other four facilities to address aging systems and increasing student populations over time.
* The School Committee's Facilities Committee and the Town Council's Facilities Committee have agreed to meet jointly to accomplish two specific things: (1) To hire a third-party consultant to conduct a comprehensive facilities study that will result in the creation of a comprehensive school and town-wide facilities plan for the next 10-20+ years. Both the Town Council and the School Committee agreed to conduct this study jointly and to do their best to adhere to the recommendations that will be contained within the final report as a guide for planning and decision making moving forward. It will take about 1 year to complete this study. (2) To develop a list of "smaller" facilities needs across the other four school buildings that will be brought forward to voters in November 2020 to address the growing systems needs of our other facilities while we work out plans to address our high school building.
* There was a renewed commitment by both boards to work TOGETHER to address the overall facilities needs of our continually growing community.
The "bad news" was that:
* A clear message was sent by the Town Council that they believe strongly a $72 million dollar project could not be brought forward at this time or any time without further thought on all of our parts as to how to creatively finance such a project and how the funding of such a project would fit into the larger scheme of community facilities needs over time. The School Committee agreed to set aside a formal request to push this project on to voters in favor of trying to find a way to work together as a whole community to address our overall facilities' needs and better plan together how to finance them in a sustainable way.
* The facilities needs associated with the GHS building proposal do not simply go away because we agree to take a step back to jointly problem solve. As we continue to address these issues together, the price of doing anything increases. Long story short - the costs associated with our continued growth will continue to grow as well.
I walked away from last night's meeting with a sense of OPTIMISM. I know that may sound crazy to folks who think that somehow the GHS project is now "dead". IT IS NOT.
What occurred last night was an agreement between Gorham's leaders that to bring forward that specific project proposal without a more comprehensive town-wide approach that is more broadly planned between the town and the schools was not in the best interest of the community as a whole.
Our community does not exist in a vacuum, nor do our schools. Our schools are as strong as they are not just because of our parent and staff support and our incredible students, but also BECAUSE OF OUR COMMUNITY'S SUPPORT. To risk pushing forward without a stronger sense of how this project fits into the Town's overall comprehensive facilities plan (which we have yet to build) would be in no one's best interests. Therefore, the School Committee and Town Council agreed to create this much needed comprehensive facilities plan, and to think more closely about how to pay for a project of this size on top of addressing all the other facilities needs that exist in Gorham. The best part of all is that they agreed to do this TOGETHER rather than to allow this type of conversation to split our community apart.
To be honest, I walked away from that meeting PROUD TO BE A GORHAM RAM more now than ever. No one "shirked" their responsibilities by saying this project is not needed. Instead, I felt as though everyone in that room stepped up, agreed to roll their sleeves up and work to solve these problems as only Gorham can - by bringing the community together!
Yes the possibility of a GHS building project has effectively been put off for at least a year while we conduct our new study and complete a comprehensive town-wide facilities plan, but we have a little time to play with - not a lot - but a little, and keeping this awesome community together is well worth that time. No one would question that. I truly believe that together we will find the right path forward that addresses all of our community's facilities needs. We will find the "right" solution, but that right solution rightly takes time. For now, we have that time and I am happy to use it.
Again, I urge folks that may have questions to please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for answers. I am ALWAYS willing to chat!
Thank you and GO RAMS!