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The oldest school building in Bangor is 100 years old, and the newest one is 45. They’re all in need of upgrades.
Over the next 10 years, Bangor’s public schools could be in for a $110 million makeover. After a decade, the school department might have decided to consolidate some schools and shut others down, affecting where future generations of Bangor students attend school.
A study of the school department’s facilities conducted by a Biddeford architectural firm earlier this year recommends two options for reconfiguring the city’s 10 school buildings as the buildings age and enrollment is projected to drop. Another option outlines the repairs and upgrades needed to keep the current buildings — seven elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school — functional.
“This is very much a baseline study,” Superintendent Betsy Webb said. Ultimately, the school department could adopt one of the recommendations made by the architectural firm Oak Point Associates, or it could come up with another, she said.
The cheapest option accounts only for recommended repairs and updates to the existing buildings, and the price tag would be $81 million, according to Oak Point.
“Even if you don’t do anything new to your schools you have to invest $81 million over the years to keep what you have,” Webb said.
A variation on that option would be to repair and upgrade nine of the city’s schools and entirely rebuild Downeast School, which began its life as a community center in the Capehart neighborhood in 1959 and today serves 293 students in prekindergarten through grade three. Rebuilding Downeast would raise the price tag to $90 million.
The other two options are more drastic, with each costing more than $110 million and requiring extensive updates, new construction and restructuring of grade levels for the entire district.
“In both Option 2 and Option 3, they recommended looking at potentially adding on a huge addition to the Cohen School and having one middle school,” Webb said, referring to one of the city’s two middle schools.
Under these options, Bangor would end up with one middle school, down from two; one campus serving students in grades four and five from across the city; and one high school, which would serve the same grades but receive some major interior renovations. The city would end up with four schools serving the city’s youngest students in prekindergarten through grade two. With one less grade level at those schools, Webb said, Bangor would gain the space to offer all-day prekindergarten.
Third graders would end up either at Vine Street School or the Doughty School, which neighbor each other.
Mary Snow and Fairmount schools, which currently serve fourth- and fifth-grade students and are both about 100 years old, would shut down under both options. Under both options, Downeast School would also be rebuilt.
“The Fairmount and Mary Snow schools are so old that it’s difficult to structure the space for our needs,” Webb said. “We do OK but they’re not really built for the needs of schools today.”
Under one of those options, Option 2, the building housing James Doughty School, currently Bangor’s other middle school, would expand to accommodate third- through fifth-grade students from the entire city. Third-grade students from Abraham Lincoln, Downeast, Vine Street and Fruit Street schools would relocate to Doughty’s expanded campus.
The youngest students would also be affected under this option. Fourteenth Street School would shut down, and its prekindergarten through second-grade students would move to Vine Street School, while its third graders move to Doughty.
Under Option 3, Fourteenth Street School would not only stay open, but it also would expand. With a 17,010-square-foot addition, the building would house prekindergarten through second grade, including students in those grades currently assigned to Vine Street School.
With its younger students reassigned, Vine Street would become the school for third graders from across the city while fourth and fifth graders attend the adjacent Doughty School.
“We don’t have a lot of green space at Vine Street,” Webb said. “But if you combine the two into a campus, you would have better playgrounds and better facilities like cafeteria, science labs, auditoriums.”
Even though consolidation of schools is relatively more expensive, it offers advantages that just maintaining and repairing buildings cannot, Webb said.
“If you do consolidate schools, you do better with the [state’s] funding formula,” she said. “If you’re closing buildings, you get a higher rating in the funding formula.”
The state also pays a portion of new construction costs, but that application takes a minimum of 10 years, Webb said.
“This is to start the conversation so that somewhere down the road, maybe there would be an application to the state for new construction,” she said.
The Bangor School Committee has not started weighing the options yet. That process could take place over the next 10 years and fall to future school committees.
Meanwhile, the school department plans to continue minor capital improvement projects every summer, and the school committee plans to schedule tours of the city’s school buildings.