April 21, 2018
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Weeks before opening, new Portland charter school fails city inspection

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, a new charter school scheduled to open in a few weeks, failed to gain an occupancy permit from the city of Portland last week, putting at risk whether the school will be able to open on time.

Carl Stasio, the school’s executive director, said he fully expects the school will open to some 140 students as scheduled on September 4.

Tammy Munson, the city’s director of inspections, said Friday that the issues found during the Aug. 12 inspection could conceivably be corrected in time for the school to open, though she did not know the scope of the required work because she did not personally conduct the inspection.

“Anything is possible,” she said. “It all depends on their staffing and the number of crews that they have. They clearly weren’t ready for a final inspection.”

Baxter Academy officials did not immediately return calls for comment Friday morning.

According to a document provided by the city, many of the outstanding issues have to do with fire safety. A number of doors that are not rated to withstand fire will have to be replaced, and there are some areas where walls need to be upgraded to stop fire. In addition, the school installed a suspended ceiling before the inspection and some of the tiles need to be removed so inspectors can see the pipes, wires and machinery above them. Also for fire safety, the building’s 54 York St. address needs to be posted outside and some stairway handrails need upgrades.

Jeff Levine, Portland’s planning director, said the school also needs to meet conditions in its site plan approval from the city’s planning board, including some improvements to crosswalks and sidewalks.

“I think it’s doable,” he said on Friday.

Baxter Academy has approval from the Maine Charter School Commission to open this fall, but that approval is contingent on a range of benchmarks being met, including those that pertain to the facility itself.

Carl Stasio, Baxter’s executive director, said the school is preparing to welcome its first ninth- and 10th-grade students from some 30 cities and towns in southern and central Maine, and the repair work is the responsibility of the leased building’s owners. The school, which is the newest of five public charter schools that have been approved since a law allowing charter schools in Maine passed in 2011, will focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

Munson said her staff is scheduled to re-inspect the building on Tuesday. Stasio said the school will be ready and that its situation is far from unique.

“I’ve been working in schools for 45 years and certainly if you went around Maine you would see a number of construction projects in schools,” he said. “I honestly believe that all of this is going to be taken care of in plenty of time for us to open on time.”

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