June 22, 2018
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Newport school officials to decide whether to renovate or replace buildings

By Alex Barber, BDN Staff

NEWPORT, Maine — Two schools in Newport were selected among six in the state for renovation or replacement.

RSU 19 Superintendent William Braun has gotten the ball rolling on what could be a multi-year process, he said.

Newport Elementary School and Nokomis Regional High School made the priority list for the Department of Education’s Major Capital Improvement Program. Nokomis is 44 years old while Newport Elementary is near 70 years old, said Braun.

“The question comes down to, do you rehab the structure or do you replace the structure? That’s part of the decision that has to be made at this point,” said Braun.

The high school has no sprinkler system, no fire code alarm system and has the original heating system. The roof is also 35 years old, he said. It’s also run out of room.

“We don’t have room for all the programs. The ROTC program is housed in the garage out back,” said Braun. He mentioned the high school has 23 modular units that have been added on to the building over the years. “When it was built 44 years ago, we didn’t have a need for technology classrooms or special ed. Once those programs became a structure for a part of education, all of a sudden we began to run out of space.”

That’s why building a new high school near the current high school would be the best option, he said.

“We own 237 acres up there,” Braun said. “We can maintain the fields we already have instead of building all new fields. That does make the most sense.”

If a new high school is built, what would happen with the old high school?

“Some of the discussions have been having a regional, central middle school for grades six through eight,” he said. “Changing to a six through eighth grade — approximately 600 kids could fit in the basic building structure [of the current high school]. We would strip it out and remodel it. The question is, is that a viable use and expenditure for that building?”

Having Somerset Valley and Sebasticook Valley middle schools now in one place next to the high school makes financial sense, said Braun.

“It would actually reduce some overhead costs,” he said.

The two current middle schools are only 10 years old, he said, so it doesn’t make sense to abandon them. A possibility is moving five elementary schools into the two middle school buildings, thus reducing the number of school buildings in the eight-town district from eight to four.

“We plow, literally, acres of driveway and parking lots. We cut some 40 acres of grass weekly and in the summer,” said Braun. “If we could cut 20 acres of grass and plow half of that sidewalk, I could save $100,000 a year.”

All are just ideas for the moment, he said.

“I’m just one person. If I talk to 20 people, I could get 20 more ideas,” said Braun.

Greg Potter, RSU 12 superintendent, will take over as RSU 19’s superintendent after Braun retires on July 1. Potter was once a student-teacher at Nokomis.

“At this point, I’ve been really listening to Bill and picking his brain,” said Potter.

Braun said he’s in the early stages of a “million-step process” for the new buildings. He has been in discussions with neighboring communities.

Having some vocational trades would also be a benefit, said Braun. State law says the regional vocational school must be located in Dexter. However, many students remain on a waitlist for the Tri-County Technical Center, said Braun.

“We could have some satellite vocational programs in order to give those kids who can’t get into Dexter the opportunity to still get some of those vocational programs — programs that complement trades already at Dexter,” Braun said. “Dexter has a building trades program, but they don’t have a plumbing trades program. They don’t have an electrical trades program, pipe fitting program or heating/HVAC program. So are those viable programs that we could have at this new comprehensive high school?”

Residents of RSU 19 towns will have final say over any project, said Braun.

“It could take a year and a half or we could be two years out [until the end of the project],” he said.

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