BATH — Members of Regional School Unit 1, serving Arrowsic, Bath, Phippsburg, and Woolwich, and students from West Bath and Georgetown, almost unanimously supported moving forward with construction of a new Morse High School and Bath Regional Career and Technical Center, in a straw poll held on Sept. 12.

Over 120 Greater Bath residents, teachers, parents and students turned up to get a first look at the future school, ask questions, and express opinions about the project. The state has promised to put about $67.5 million toward the $74.7 million project, which will be built at Wing Farm, off Congress Avenue.

“One of the steps in the (state) approval process is to show we have community support for moving ahead with the design and what the proposed budget looks like,” said Rob Morris, an administrative assistant with RSU 1. “It’s not binding, like a referendum vote. It’s a show of hands. The state wants to see that we had this meeting and the community wants to move ahead.”

Only one community member indicated that he opposed going forward. Joe Bisson, a 1988 Morse graduate who lives in Woolwich, said, “I feel the decision to build a new school has been forced on the community by allowing the old building to fall into disrepair, and by allowing the state to mandate what we build, and how we spend our tax dollars.”

The locally-funded balance of $7.2 million heads to a referendum vote on Nov. 7 for the four member communities of RSU 1. Approval will allow for spending up to that amount, but if the design committees can get the cost below that, the full amount won’t be bonded.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re definitely going to go out for $7.2 million,” said Superintendent Patrick Manuel. “But the building committee felt passionately about some items” that include amenities over and above what the state’s formula funds.

Some of those items are additional gymnasium space to allow for two separate physical education facilities; increased seating in the theater from 500 to 700; more cafeteria and library space, plus a geothermal heating system.

Based on $100,000 property valuation, an Arrowsic homeowner would see an additional $17.59 in taxes annually; Bath, $31.69 annually; Phippsburg, $13.87 annually; and Woolwich, $30.96 annually, the $7.2 million in local funding is approved.

Despite the community’s general consensus to move forward, some in attendance expressed strong opinions about the appearance of the new school, describing the exterior as “offensive” and looking “more like a penitentiary than it does a high school.”

Diane Delano, a member of the Morse class of 1968 who lives in West Bath, said, “The only thing missing is barbed wire.”

Lead architect Ron Lamarre, of Lavallee/Brensinger Architects, said comments like that are exactly the kind he hopes for during the building development process.

“I’ve heard it all,” he said. “The more people who get engaged, the better the project is going to be,” noting that in his long career, the Morse project has generated the most community engagement he’s experienced.

Additional concerns varied from making sure enough space was left on walls for students to display their artwork, to the roof being pitched instead of flat – something many felt was foolish in New England winters.

Many expressed that the new school should capture the spirit and heritage of Morse High School, which has the oldest, continuous active alumni association in the country.

Lamarre assured those who attended the straw poll presentation that the design is still just a concept at this point, and the project doesn’t even go out to bid until January 2019.

“This concept design tonight looks nothing like it did when we started, and what you see tonight won’t look like what we finally end up with,” he said, encouraging people to get involved in ongoing design discussions about the new Morse High.

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