School construction, new administrators will greet SAD 75 students

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TOPSHAM — The 2018-19 school year marks a time of transition for School Administrative District 75, with a new superintendent and assistant superintendent, and construction progressing quickly on a new Mt. Ararat High School.

“We’ve got footings, concrete being poured probably as we speak,” interim Superintendent Dan Chuhta said Aug. 17 of the project, due to conclude in two years.

The new school, which SAD 75 voters approved in March 2017, is being built on the competition field on school grounds. A groundbreaking ceremony was held June 7, and Arthur C. Dudley of Standish is the project’s primary contractor.

New asphalt was being laid last week for the new Eagles Way, which “takes a slightly different path” from the current road, Chuhta said. Utilities are also being installed, and wells are being drilled for the future facility’s geothermal system.

The cost of the base project is not to exceed $60 million, which includes $6.2 million for items the state will not cover. The school now onsite will be demolished, with a $649,000 artificial turf field – the main athletic field, with a track – built on the site by 2021.

With more activity around the campus once school starts, “we’re certainly prioritizing safety,” Chuhta said. “It’s an active construction site, and will be for the next few years, so we want everyone to have safety on their minds.”

New administrators

Chuhta, who had been assistant superintendent since 2012, was tapped by the SAD 75 Board of Directors June 14 to replace outgoing Superintendent Brad Smith on a one-year interim basis beginning July 1. The decision allows the district more time in conducting a superintendent search early next year.

To replace Chuhta, the board chose Peg Armstrong, formerly Wiscasset’s high and middle school principal, as interim assistant superintendent for the year.

The Harpswell Community School also has a new principal, Anita Hopkins, who had been a principal of two schools in Skowhegan-based SAD 54. She replaces Betsy Lane, who filled out the remaining year after Kerry Bailey retired.

One of Mt. Ararat High’s two assistant principals, Don Gray, is leaving the district next month to serve that role at Greely High School in Cumberland. SAD 75 will begin a recruitment process to fill that vacancy, and Alison Pols will continue as the school’s other assistant principal, Chuhta said.

Initiatives

SAD 75 is launching its pre-K program this year with one classroom of 16 students at the Williams-Cone Elementary School. Through a partnership with Head Start, another classroom of that size will operate at Cook’s Corner in neighboring Brunswick.

The district’s three focus areas for next year are helping students be safe, well, and continue learning, Chuhta said. Continued work with the community’s first responders will address the first objective, and Chuhta will convene a mental health task force composed of district-wide representatives to tackle the second objective.

That group will “identify what challenges are in our district when it comes to mental health for our students, identify what resources we already have in place to support students,” and conduct a “gap analysis” to determine areas where more resources are required, Chuhta said.

All grades start Tuesday, Sept. 4.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Construction is progressing in Topsham on a new Mt. Ararat High School, down the campus from the 1973 structure now onsite. Completion is scheduled for 2020. A 9/11 memorial stands in the foreground.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.