Bath council keeps high school project on track

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BATH — In a straw poll Wednesday, the City Council unanimously supported Regional School Unit 1 exploring construction of a new high school on one of two city-owned properties.

The school district has been in talks with city officials about constructing a new high school either adjacent to Bath Middle School, or at Wing Farm Park. RSU representatives said they may be interested in purchasing both parcels – which sit near each other north of Congress Avenue – to provide room for both the school and new athletic fields.

Appraisals of both properties must be completed, and the state Department of Education must weigh in on the construction options. The City Council, which urged input from residents, will also have to formally vote on whether to sell property to the RSU.

RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel told the council the schools have conducted an extensive search of properties in all four RSU 1 communities – Bath, Arrowisc, Phippsburg and Woolwich – and narrowed the options down to two.

Once the district decides to pursue one site for school construction, a nonbinding community straw vote on the location – No. 6 of a 21-step major capital school construction process – will take place, possibly next spring or summer.

The RSU 1 Board of Directors last October unanimously supported rebuilding Morse High School at a different site. That decision followed a study that found the existing High Street school unsuitable for renovation or expansion.

Ron Lamarre of Lavallee Brensinger Architects – a Manchester, New Hampshire-based company hired by RSU 1 to provide architectural and engineering services for the project – presented the pros and cons of both sites.

Pros at Wing Farm include RSU 1 being able to build athletic fields onsite while continuing to use the fields by the middle school. Also, the district would be able to contain construction to one site, allowing Morse High and the connected Bath Regional Career and Technical Center to remain open, and not impact BMS, Lamarre explained.

One con of building at Wing Farm is that RSU 1 does not own the athletic fields at the middle school; the state consequently requires an agreement stating that the city would not sell those fields or block the school district from using them, Lamarre said.

The middle school site has less ledge with which to contend, and placing the high school next to the middle school would mean easier bus access with an internal loop, he noted. The stadium, tennis courts and softball field by the middle school would be left alone.

“The space available on Wing Farm would provide the additional fields that don’t fit (at the middle school site),” Lamarre said. “So now … we have two construction sites.”

The artificial turf field at the Edward J. McMann Outdoor Athletic Complex would be not be impacted if the school was built near BMS. Still, Kate Bussey – a member of Fields for Our Future, the group that raised funds over six years and during tough economic times to build the $562,000 field – wanted the city to address the ownership of the turf field as it explores whether to sell the property.

“And be sensitive to the fact that when we did this effort, it wasn’t just for the school, it was really billed as a field for the community,” Bussey said. “… And I just worry that we might be moving so closely toward a ‘high school’ message here only.”

Several councilors thanked Bussey her for observation.

Councilor James Omo said there has been much discussion about the complex, and the stadium will remain as it is.

“We’ve been very adamant about that,” he said. “Even if we end up selling that piece … we can assure the citizens of Bath that it’s going to stay the way it is, or (be) improved upon.”

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

Ron Lamarre of Lavallee Brensinger Architects, the New Hampshire-based company hired by Regional School Unit 1 to provide architectural and engineering services for a new high school in Bath. 

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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.