DOE approves 6 schools for state-funded construction projects

Posted April 11, 2014, at 6:21 p.m.
The Fred P. Hall School in Portland, as shown in a Sept. 18, 2012, file photo from The Forecaster.
The Fred P. Hall School in Portland, as shown in a Sept. 18, 2012, file photo from The Forecaster.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Fred P. Hall School in Portland has deteriorating wood siding and windowsills, a roof that leaks periodically and it does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Peter Eglinton, the Portland School Department’s chief operations officer. On top of that, the school had an electrical fire in 2012 that forced students out of the building for two weeks.

The condition of the school, which was built to be a temporary building in 1956, “takes both a physical and emotional toll,” Eglinton said.

On Wednesday, the school was put on a path to recovery. It was one of six schools that the Maine State Board of Education voted to add to a list of schools slated for state-funded construction projects.

The other five schools are Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, Martel School in Lewiston, Monmouth Middle School, Teague Park School in Caribou and Morse High School in Bath. They bring the state’s list of approved projects to 12 dating back to 2012.

Officials from the districts whose schools made the list expressed appreciation for the planned state aid that would be coming their way.

“Replacing Hall has been our district’s top priority for building improvements,” Portland Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said in a prepared statement distributed Wednesday.

“Combining state and local funding is the only way we can address our critical needs while reducing the burden on Portland taxpayers,” he said.

Lewiston School Department Superintendent Bill Webster said work on the Martel School will help his district address a rapidly growing student population.

“We’re bursting at the seams classwise,” he said. “We have classes as high as 28 and 29 but we have no additional rooms.”

But it will likely be years before any of the schools that made the list see improvements.

Though they have begun the process, none of the six projects that were approved in January 2012, the last time schools were added to the DOE’s approved list, have broken ground. Hampden Academy, which was added in 2005, did not open until fall 2012.

“Folks begin to think that next month we are going to start working on these schools,” said Education Commissioner Jim Rier on Wednesday. “This is a very long process.”

As part of the process, school districts must locate a site and a come up with a concept, which must both be approved by the DOE and voted on by local residents. Once the district has a complete and detailed plan for the project, the DOE will approve it again before construction can begin.

“It’s a very time-consuming process,” said Sanford School Department Superintendent David Theoharides, whose district has a project that is second on the list. “About every three weeks I will spend a day up in Augusta.”

“The state has certain strict criteria that we have to meet and that’s part of the challenge,” he said.

Once complete, the Sanford project will house Sanford High School and the Regional Technical Center in a new building, which will serve a total of 1,700 students and likely cost $80 million to $90 million, according to Theoharides.

The superintendent said the district is still negotiating a price with the landowners of the site they have selected.

The Morison Memorial School in Corinth is furthest along of the six schools that were approved in 2012. Regional School Unit 64 superintendent Dan Higgins said his district’s sending communities held their referendum in December, where voters approved a $28.5 million school in Corinth that will replace five smaller community schools.

“Since that list came out, we’ve been working very hard, moving forward on the project, with the DOE’s support,” Higgins said.

The schools that were approved Wednesday will now begin the process of determining what their project will look like.

“The solution for these projects is not known,” Rier said. “In many cases it will be a renovation or addition project.”

 

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