NEWPORT, Maine — Regional School Unit 19 is mulling its options on two schools the district could receive from the state.
The RSU is also asking for input from residents in its eight district towns — Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans.
Newport Elementary School on Elm Street and Nokomis Regional High School on Williams Road were approved to be replaced or renovated through the Maine Department of Education’s Major Capital Improvement Program in 2011. The elementary school was ranked third in the state in most need of replacement or renovation, while Nokomis was sixth.
Last week, RSU 19 officials and members from Oak Point Associates of Biddeford addressed residents at public forums at the schools. More meetings will be held on Wednesdays in December at 6:30 p.m.: Somerset Valley Middle School in Hartland on Dec. 4; Corinna Elementary School on Dec. 11; and Etna-Dixmont School in Etna on Dec. 18.
“It’s going to take months, but it’s an exciting opportunity,” RSU 19 Building Committee Chairman Darren Briggs said on Wednesday at Nokomis. “We want to do the best we can to engage the public.”
Newport Elementary School, which houses pre-kindergarten to fourth grade, is near 70 years old and is composed of three separate buildings. During the winter months, children have to bundle up in coats to get lunch or go to gym class. The roof is also in need of replacement.
Because a railroad track is located between the elementary school and emergency services, the recommendation from DOE is to build new at another location, said Briggs.
Nokomis Regional High School could be replaced or renovated, according to Briggs. The school is 45 years old, and 20 percent of the classroom space is in portable buildings, according to Superintendent Greg Potter. The school also lacks fire detection and sprinkler systems and is on its original heating system, he said.
“We need a major upgrade to this educational space, and this is a great opportunity,” said Potter.
Nokomis has the option of being renovated, but Briggs stressed that everything in the building would be new or like-new and have additions.
Potter said a building renovation wasn’t ideal, as it would disrupt learning for up to two school years.
No matter which way the district decides, each project, if approved, would be completely state-funded, at least up to a point.
“The intention is for the project to be totally state-funded,” said Robert Tillotson, president of Oak Point Associates. “You’re not going to get a Taj Mahal, but you’re going to get a very, very good school. They’ll give you a good, energy-efficient building, but they won’t give you any frills.”
The state will fund the school project to the size of the school population. There would no longer need to be multi-use rooms, said Tillotson. The cafeteria would be for the cafeteria, not for wrestling practice, he said.
However, if the district wanted to have a performing arts center or an electric generator on top of what is allocated the state, the district would have to raise its own money to fund it, said Tillotson. It’s best to know what residents want early on in the process, he added.
What’s included in the schools and where the schools will be located could be up to residents. Potter encouraged everyone in the district, not just those with children in school, to attend future meetings and to contact his office with ideas.
“With every forum we have, we learn something,” said Briggs.