Controversial Portland charter school fails inspection again; leaders insist it will be ready by opening day
PORTLAND, Maine — Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, a new charter school set to open in Portland in two weeks, failed for the second time Wednesday to obtain its occupancy permit from city building inspectors.
Academy Executive Director Carl Stasio maintained Wednesday that the school will open on time on Sept. 4, saying he’s “not even a little bit” concerned that the late summer facility repairs will jeopardize the beginning of the fall term.
“I’ve been in the building every day since late April, and you see the incremental progress. We know exactly what the issues are,” he told the BDN.
The academy’s 54 York St. building failed an Aug. 12 inspection and had a follow-up review by city officials Wednesday. Baxter Academy — which plans to build a strong science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, curriculum around hands-on student projects — is one of five institutions approved by the Maine Charter School Commission under a 2011 law legalizing charter schools and the first in Maine’s largest city.
The academy was dealt another setback Wednesday, however, after city inspectors said the facility failed once again to qualify for an occupancy permit. The York Street building, which is owned by the Rufus Deering Lumber Co., is more than a century old, Stasio said.
Portland city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said city inspectors will schedule a return to the facility when academy officials report that the problems found in the latest review have been fixed.
“They did not pass … but that’s not unusual when you’re dealing with an old building,” Clegg said Wednesday. “When we’re dealing with buildings like these, it could take a couple of [inspections] to address the issues. With people who are refitting the interior of an old building, there can be issues they may or may not have been aware of. We’ve identified some of the issues that need to be addressed.”
According to a copy of Wednesday’s inspection results, some electrical wiring needs to be fixed, sheetrock walls must be extended beyond ceiling tiles as a fire and smoke slowing precaution and the sprinkler alarm must be tested.
Stasio said school officials recognize the importance of having a safe building, and vowed that the facility will safely open on time to welcome its inaugural group of approximately 135 freshmen and sophomores in two weeks.
Baxter Academy has been the focus of regular controversy in the 18 months prior to its scheduled opening. In the spring and summer of 2012, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan urged the Maine Charter School Commission not to approve the school’s application, saying it would siphon public education funds from other Portland-area public schools.
This year, academy board members threw out the school’s founding executive director and then found themselves in a legal tussle over whether the founder or institution retained control over the website and much of its early documentation.
Then last month, Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, blasted school leaders for hosting an event by the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center. Alfond indicated that he saw the move as a sign the academy was aligned with the center politically, a belief Stasio denied before Republican Gov. Paul LePage blistered the Portland Democrat over his comments in a letter.