RAYMOND — Several town officials in Raymond have misgivings about plans for a vehicle maintenance facility that would be shared by the Town of Windham Public Works Department and the RSU 14 school district.
Raymond Selectboard Chairwoman Theresa Sadak started a March 27 budget workshop by expressing frustration about the input — or lack thereof — that Raymond town officials have in the process behind the planned facility.
The building would be owned by the Town of Windham and a portion of it leased by the Windham-Raymond school district. The district currently leases space at the existing Windham Public Works facility.
“We have no vote at all on that garage, but they’re expecting us to pay for part of that garage,” Sadak said about the project.
Windham voters signed off on a $9.3 million bond for the shared vehicle maintenance facility in November by a tally of 1,948-1,772. Town voters had previously turned down similar proposals in 2015 and 1995.
Sadak said that Raymond had asked for and received some information about the project from Windham and the school district, but has “run into maybe a little bit of a stonewall” in an effort to meet with the parties involved and get more information.
“We’re an open checkbook right now, and I’ve got a problem with that,” added Sadak, who served on the withdrawal committee in 2014 and 2015 when Raymond considered leaving RSU 14 but ultimately voted to stay part of the district.
RSU 14 Assistant Superintendent Donn Davis said in an interview that the district’s agreement to use space at Windham’s Public Works garage predates his 17-year tenure in the district.
“It’s been a longstanding situation, and it made sense,” Davis said about sharing the facility with Windham. When asked about the concerns in Raymond, Davis said he understood that perspective but said Raymond is not a party in the agreement.
“I guess I appreciate that except to say that it’s a negotiation between two entities that don’t involve the Town of Raymond, it just happens that the Town of Windham will have a facility that the RSU is interested in. So the parties in interest, really, are the Town of Windham and the RSU.”
The proposed 30,000-square-foot facility would be located on the same property as the current garage shared by Windham Public Works and the school department. It would be about triple the size of the less than 10,000-square-foot existing facility, providing more room to keep vehicles and equipment out of the elements, store tools and parts, and offer additional locker room and administrative space.
At the March 27 Windham Town Council meeting, Windham Town Manager Tony Plante provided an update on the project, which he said still needs approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and site plan approval from the Windham Planning Board.
Windham Town Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman asked Plante about the concerns in Raymond and what that meant for the planning.
“Raymond is not a party to the agreement, it’s the Town of Windham and the RSU 14 Windham-Raymond school district,” Plante said. “I understand the Town of Raymond has concerns, but we and the school district are looking at this as same as any other lease that the school district would enter into for any its operations — that both Windham and Raymond taxpayers would pay for a share of it regardless of where it was sighted.”
Plante said that he and a town attorney met with Davis and a school district attorney, and Plante expected that a draft of the lease agreement could be ready for council consideration sometime in April.
In her remarks last week, Sadak highlighted the current RSU 14 cost-sharing agreement, in which Windham pays 64 percent of additional local district costs and Raymond pays 36 percent.
As part of that cost-sharing agreement, each town is responsible for capital costs at school facilities within that town, which Sadak and others in Raymond said should absolve them from sharing in the costs of the shared vehicle maintenance facility.
“All future local-only debt service for major capitol costs shall be allocated to the member municipality in which the school facilities for which the obligation is incurred is located,” reads the agreement language.
The school department, however, has a different interpretation of that agreement language.
Davis cited multiple provisions within Maine state education statute, which defines major capital costs as school construction projects and specifies that a school construction project does not include “the lease-purchase of bus garage and maintenance facilities” under the statute.
“It’s not our facility. This facility will belong to the town of Windham,” Davis said. “We’re not engaging in a capital plan expansion for the RSU.”
Raymond Selectboard Member Joe Bruno also pointed out last week that the Town of Windham, not the school district, would own the new shared maintenance facility. Bruno described that arrangement as an end-around of sorts.
“It’s kind of an end-run because they’re just going to lease space from the town and say, well it’s not a school building, so you need to share the cost of it,” Bruno said.
Raymond Selectboard Vice Chairman Rolf Olsen encouraged town voters to be engaged in the RSU 14 budgeting process and to have a sense of what they will be asked to approve in this year’s budget referendum.
Raymond Budget/Finance Committee Chairman Marshall Bullock said he didn’t think the school board has done its due diligence in reviewing other potential alternatives to meet the district’s transportation needs.
“We have three representatives on there that are not questioning this,” Sadak said about Raymond’s three RSU 14 board members. “I don’t know if they fully don’t understand that agreement that we have.”
She said the Selectmen had asked for an informal, off the record meeting with Windham and RSU 14 officials, and according to Sadak, school board members “have said pretty much said no, they don’t want to talk to us.”
“They owe us answers, I really feel that,” Sadak said.
RSU 14 School Board Chairwoman Diana Froisland, who represents Raymond on the board, said “I have not received any communication from Ms. Sadak or any other Raymond Selectmen to have a meeting, so I’m not sure who she is asserting declined a request to meet,” Froisland said in an email. “Also, the school board is still in the process of working out an arrangement that would be in the best interest of the RSU and the communities we serve.”
Davis said that the district looked at market rates for leasing other facilities, and engaged a Portland-based architectural firm to explore the costs of building its own transportation facility, which Davis said would be “in the realm of millions of dollars.”
“I feel that we did do the appropriate level of due diligence,” Davis added.
Bullock asked his fellow Raymond town officials last week if litigation would be appropriate, given their concerns about the shared vehicle maintenance facility.
“Don’t know yet,” Sadak responded. “We’re not there yet.”
“Wish there was an easy button,” she said at another point in the meeting. “There’s not.”
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Raymond town officials discuss the plans for a vehicle maintenance facility that would be shared by the Town of Windham and RSU 14.