Rockland Planning Board to address Midcoast School of Technology school fence, amphitheater

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 11:30am

Reporter note: This article has been updated to reflect errors and revisions regarding Region 8’s proposals at Mid-Coast School of Technology.

ROCKLAND — Members of the Midcoast School of Technology board will meet with the Rockland Planning Board, Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 5:15 p.m. Following a 4 p.m. site visit by the Planning Board for a different agenda item, discussions will continue regarding a proposed outdoor arena for MCST, as well as a proposed perimeter fence that has frustrated residents.

Included in the Planning Board’s application folder at the Rockland planning office are petitions signed by approximately 40 area residents fighting for open access to the school’s property.

For a long time, residents have been walking the beach in front of the technology school, which educates high school students in Knox County.

That area comprises Snow Marine Park and the Owls Head side of the harbor. Citizens have walked there with or without canine companions. Though the walkers never were allotted official permission from the school to be there, the previous school building, torn down in spring of 2019, was far enough away that the access issue was ignored, according to MCST officials. 

In a letter to the city’s planning board, school board Chairman Jerry White and Director Elizabeth Fisher stated problems with some of the “trespassing” dog owners, including littering, not curbing their animals, letting the dogs run loose, and even warning school staff that the dogs weren’t friendly, yet refusing to keep the canines from aggressively approaching students. 

The school has a service-animals only policy, as well as a policy keeping the general public away from the education facility during school hours, which are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

However, with the new school building closer to the shore line, and with a proposed Outdoor Learning Center (formerly referred to as ‘amphitheater’) in the plans, the boundary line between students and the public has thinned.

After thorough review by the school board with input from the public and from staff the current proposal is for a fence only on the North and South properly lines with a gate that would be kept closed during the school day (8 to 2 p.m., not 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., as initially stated in the article). This allows for uninterrupted use by students and staff during the school day.

Background checks and fingerprinting before being allowed to work in Maine schools. Our work with law enforcement regarding readiness for managing threats to the school further reinforce the need for restricting access. These threats vary from violence we hear about weekly (in Maine as well as other parts of the country) plus other threats of inappropriate access. It is a legal requirement for students to be protected from certain persons including restraining orders and a variety of other legal obligations. Giving the public unlimited access to the school grounds while school is in session is simply not possible.”

School officials maintain that Mid-Coast School of Technology, its property and its programming, are first and foremost for the students.

As proposed, The Outdoor Learning Center will be a location used primarily by Region 8 students for learning and gathering as a student body in an outdoor environment built into the existing slope overlooking the harbor. On the small scale, instructors will use the 7 tiers of bench seating for small group outdoor classroom activities. The school also lacks a gymnasium and cannot fit the entire student body into its largest 120-person capacity room. Therefore, on the large scale, the outdoor mortared field stone/concrete seats with natural capstone will allow the entire school roster to witness Student of the Month awards as well as gather when important information needs to be spread.

To access the top of the hillside’s 11-feet high, approximately 60-feet wide venue from the bottom, students will use one of three staircases made of precast steps, 6 inches high and 24 inches deep. The space in between each tier will be grass. 

Several residents maintain that the beach area is a part of Rockland’s Harbor Trail. However, as White and Fisher state in their application documents, the harbor trail ends on Mechanic Street. No Harbor Trail documentation references Mid-Coast School of Technology or its location at 1 Main Street.

According to the Region 8 letter, any discussion of a fence or easement “or other discussion of the limits of student use on school property” is under the school board’s jurisdiction. Along with requirements of the City of Rockland, Region 8 must also comply with state and federal law, school board policy, and recommended safety precautions. 

Region 8 also plans to install rooftop solar panels. The school anticipates that the expected 300KW of electricity will help power the building, “saving the school (taxpayers) hundreds of thousands of dollars over time,” according to Region 8 documents.  

Reach Sarah Thompson at news@penbaypilot.com