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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government

 

Computers for Schools and Libraries

By Ed Gomes

What first was a concept mentioned in Governor King's 1998 State of the State message to the Legislature, is now a reality. The Governor heard that other states had programs where surplus computers were donated by businesses, refurbished by prison inmates, and distributed to schools. He turned to the Department of Corrections and issued the challenge that they create a similar program for Maine.

PC Being Refurbished - pcrehab.gif (9210 bytes)

Denise Lord from Corrections accepted the assignment and began to build a program, even though she had no budget. She got the Libra Foundation to agree to grant the funds for a computer shop at the Maine Correctional Center (MCC) in Windham and to cover the costs of a supervisor/instructor for two years. Hannaford Brothers, L. L. Bean, and Bath Iron Works quickly identified surplus computers for the program. Robert Jaime joined the MCC staff in Windham in August as the supervisor/instructor. He selected from the volunteer inmates those with the most potential, and conducted a ten-week computer technician training course. After training, the 8-person crew started to diagnose the 50 computers on hand.

In October, the Department of Education engaged Ed Gomes to facilitate the dispersal of the equipment. The Department of Education, Department of Corrections, and the Maine State Library utilized advisory committees to determine project operations. The committees provided the following guidelines for the dispersal of computers:

  • one public library will be served for every three schools served,
  • the minimum computer capacity is "Internet ready",
  • the goal is one computer for every six students,
  • the basis for selection for libraries is computers divided by annual circulation, and
  • the basis for selection of schools is the E-rate percentage. (E-rate is a federal program that uses an objective measure of community economic status for every school building.)

In addition to the distribution criteria, (which was designed to offer refurbished computers to those schools determined to be least able to purchase new computers) the Maine’s Computers for Schools and Libraries Program faced another critical issue. How to recover the costs for parts and components? The labor was free (as all the inmates volunteered), but it cost $15,000 a month for parts to refurbish 100 computers a month. Approval was obtained to charge the end user school or library $150 per computer to make the program self sustaining.

Eligible schools and libraries were notified in February that computers were available and were invited to apply. The number of requests was staggering. Forty libraries asked for 95 computers. The Gardiner Public Library was the first to receive refurbished computers. When their first three computers were delivered on March 12, Gardiner librarian Ann Davis exclaimed, "I never expected computers as good as these!"

The requests from the 90% e-rate schools were due on March 1st. Respondents included: Unity Elementary, Unity (15); Libby Tozier, Litchfield (25); Gateway, Van Buren (37); and Sadie Adams, Fryeburg (2). Requests from the 80% schools are due April 1st.

Key to the success of this program is a continuous flow of donated computers. In addition to L.L.Bean, Hannaford Bros., and Bath Iron Works, other donors include UNUM, MBNA, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Department of Defense, T.J. Maxx, and Marshalls department stores.

Curious to learn more? Contact:

Maine's Computers for Schools and Libraries Program, Ed Gomes, facilitator - phone 287-5620;

Maine School Library Network, Linda Lord, coordinator - phone 287-5620; and

Maine Correctional Center in Windham, computer refurbishing shop, Robert Jaime supervisor/instructor - phone 893-7000.