BATH — In a straw poll Monday, all but one of approximately 160 voting-age residents supported the concept design and budget for a new Morse High School.
The show-of-hands vote, held at Bath Middle School, marked the 12th step in a 21-part, state-mandated process necessary before the project is approved.
Despite the favorable decision, several residents of the four Regional School Unit 1 communities – Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg and Woolwich – criticized the proposed exterior design of the school, which some compared to a prison.
About 100 RSU 1 residents in April unanimously supported building a new high school at the Wing Farm business park – the sixth step in the process. With approval of referendum this November, the school – which would also house the Bath Regional Career & Technical Center – could open north of the Wing Farm business park in August 2020.
Of the $75.7 million total cost, the state would pay for $67.5 million. That would leave $7.2 million to be funded locally through a bond, along with $700,000 to come through fundraising.
Major items included in the local burden – above and beyond what the state is willing to fund – include a second gym ($786,000), a larger theater ($346,000) and cafeteria ($351,000), and a geothermal heating system ($910,000).
The two gyms would adjoin. The state-funded, 9,555-square-foot competition gym is positioned horizontally in the building design, while the mostly locally funded, 5,640-square-foot physical education gym is placed vertically. There would be a movable wall between the two gyms.
Ron Lamarre of Lavallee Brensinger Architects – a Manchester, New Hampshire-based company hired by RSU 1 to provide architectural and engineering services – led residents through a presentation on the cost and design. When he got to the exterior image, laughter could be heard from the audience, followed by one person saying, “That’s a no-no.”
One called it “a terrible design,” and another said the exterior looked like a penitentiary, with only the barbed wire fence missing.
“It didn’t look like this when we started; I guarantee it won’t look like this when we’re done,” said Lamarre, noting that the exterior is the most-discussed aspect of any project with which he has been involved.
“We have the state school board to consider,” he added. “We are working with them closely. We are working with the (RSU 1 ) Design Committee and Sustainability Committee.”
Lamarre noted that November’s vote will be not on the final school design, but on the $7.2 million bond, along with the millions in state funding.
“The state has that money; they’re going to build somebody else a school if you don’t want it,” he said. “So why not take it.”
More information can be found through the Morse-BRCTC Building Project link at rsu1.org.
The proposed three-story building would be nearly 186,000 square feet, a little larger than the current school and BRCTC combined. Morse has a population of 615, and the new school would be built for 650.
The 20-year bond could have the following annual impact on taxpayers at the outset, based on $100,000 property values: Bath, $31.69; Arrowsic, $17.59; Phippsburg, $13.87; and Woolwich, $30.96.
The exterior of the proposed new Morse High School, a work in progress, was criticized by several audience members before a straw poll Monday, Sept. 11.