Gaines Elementary to remain open for 2021-22 school year

GAINES — Gaines Elementary School will remain open for the 2021-22 school year, but the future of the building remains uncertain.

The Board of Education voted last week to postpone a decision until March. In the coming months, they will collect data, consider alternatives and meet with members of the Gaines community. The next townhall meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, July 19.

Following a 6-0 vote in favor of keeping the building open for the upcoming school year, board President Carrie Germain said, “That does not relieve us of our duties, and the work begins now.”

Superintendent Ben Mainka has said the school has had markedly declining enrollment in recent years since a previous school board first considered a closure.

The current board has several options regarding the school’s future, from keeping it fully staffed to shutting it down. Other alternatives include making it an upper elementary building and turning it into a community education center for enrichment programs, as well as the district’s self-sustaining

Great Start Readiness Program and early education classes.

During a previous townhall session in June, Gaines families asked the board to commit to keeping the school open for a certain number of years, and/or provide them with a closure date.

Speaking at the June 23 school board meeting, Gaines resident and business owner Melissa Neal pointed out that, since the topic first came to the fore, families have been increasingly reluctant to send their children to Gaines Elementary for fear it will close and they will have to transfer to a different building or district.

“We have talked, the residents have brought it up,” Neal said. “As much as you (the school board) have not talked about closing that school, the residents do. Your residents still talk about it and they’re still afraid to send their kids there.”

She added, “As a resident and business owner in that community, the last thing we need is an empty building.”

Mainka said the district, overall, is doing well financially, which affords the board some time to weigh its options for Gaines.

Board Vice President Brian Sepanak said he welcomes the additional time to prepare.

“This will give us a chance to discuss it, evaluate it,” Sepanak said. “I don’t like rushing a decision. If we hold off until March, maybe things will be better all around.”

Germain urged the board to “ask the hard questions.”

“Ask for the data,” she said. “Listen to our community, but we also have to be good fiduciaries. I would also ask the community of Gaines to look hard at an option for a community center.”

In her hometown of Beaverton, an underutilized school was transformed into a community center “and it’s a jewel,” she said.

“It’s something to look at as a model, something that can be done,” Germain said. “It educates the community and provides a lot of services.”