After some frustrating delays, plans for the new school at Sipayik appear now to be on a more definite timeline, with the building expected to be ready to welcome school children in the fall of 2019. Previously, it had been hoped that the building would be ready a year earlier.
Linda McLeod, superintendent for Maine Indian Education (MIE), says she received "good news" on July 24, when the architectural firm for the school gave her the new timeline, which calls for going out to bid in January or February and for construction to begin in early or late spring of 2018. It's expected that construction will take 16 to 18 months. The "biggest stumbling blocks" that McLeod says are now possible are the 15 to 21 days for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to review the plans.
Because construction had been scheduled to begin this past spring or earlier, the tribal government had moved out of its offices in the tribal government building a year and a half ago so that the new school could be built. The offices were relocated to a number of buildings in the community in January 2016, and in July the tribal government had torn down its tribal office building, which had been on the site for the new school. The tribe will be leasing 20 acres to the Bureau of Indian Education, which will own the new school building. Plans call for the new tribal office to be located at the site of the Beatrice Rafferty School, once the students and staff have moved to the new building.
Tribal Chief Ralph Dana comments, "We gave up our building so there would be space for the new school in the middle of the community. But it drags on and drags on, and we're still displaced." He adds, "No one is opposed to the school," but he does have concerns about how the process is being handled and the lack of open communication with the tribal government. "No one's reached out to me. We gave up our building for that purpose. We've been displaced and scattered throughout the community waiting for the school to be built." He says it's been "an undue hardship" on the tribe to have all of the tribal offices in different locations.
Chief Dana had understood that the funding issues had been resolved in March, as he had spoken with members of the Maine congressional delegation in February about the hold-up in $1.5 million in federal funding caused by "an administrative miscalculation" on the enrollment numbers by the Bureau of Indian Education. "We were led to believe that was the hold-up," says Dana, adding that tribal officials expected that construction could still begin this past spring. He then heard that the bids wouldn't be going out until this fall. Dana says the continued delays are "troubling," as they have an impact on the tribal administration and its ability to provide services to the community.
Following a discussion with the superintendent on July 25, Dana adds that the tribal government and the school administration are unified in their efforts in going forward and working together. "We support the school," he says, although the delays have been frustrating.
McLeod, who has heard the frustration, says, "The tribal government has been extremely patient with us, and we appreciate that. We've displaced them, but we have a definite timeline now."
"It's been a delay, but we have it all together now. The people at Pleasant Point want to move forward with this so it can be the best school for their children. They deserve it." She adds, "It's going to be a very modern school in a beautiful place overlooking the Atlantic Ocean."
According to McLeod, the delays were caused by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) challenging the projection on the number of children that will be enrolled at the school, but McLeod says, "We won that battle. They were wrong." Enrollment projections are for between 150 and 160 students when the school opens. McLeod says U.S. Senator Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree were both helpful in contesting the numbers with BIA, which has to approve the construction plans. She also notes that there will be no change in the size of the school, which was also contested by BIA. "It's what we want," she says, adding that the plans, though, are not yet completed. Funding for the construction, which is expected to cost around $16 million, is all in line, with a total of $18.5 million for the design and construction having been included in a federal omnibus funding bill that was passed in early 2014.
"We've got it straightened out, and I have a good feeling about the whole thing now."
Concerning the name for the new school, McLeod expects it will be discussed at the next Pleasant Point School Committee meeting, scheduled for late August.
The present Beatrice Rafferty School, which was constructed in 1970, with an addition and renovation having been completed in 1986, has had mold and mildew problems from water leaking into the building and problems with the roof, walls and foundation. By 2014 enrollment had increased to 130 students, with classes and programs crammed into the space. In addition to the school building, three other buildings are used to accommodate the school's classes and programs. Except for the tarred playground, the school has no outside space for athletics.
The new building with KB8 classrooms will have a full-size gym, a Native studies room, science lab, music and art rooms, library and computer and media labs. Full-size playgrounds will be next to the Kcipeskiyak ball field for use by the students.