Board expected to OK Topsham high school reconstruction

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TOPSHAM — School Administrative District directors were scheduled to vote Thursday, Nov. 19, on whether to rebuild Mt. Ararat High School in a new location, or renovate the existing building.

District residents appear to be leaning toward building a new school on the existing campus, based on feedback at recent community forums and a vote last month by the project’s Building Committee.

Both the committee and the project architect, Portland-based PDT, were going to give a brief overview of the project at Thursday’s School Board meeting at Woodside Elementary School.

“We believe the current campus will meet the needs of the project, and the Building Committee supports options which allow students to remain in the current building … during construction of a new facility,” as opposed to being displaced, Superintendent Brad Smith said in an email Nov. 11.

A variety of “test fits,” or simple space representations of where a new school could be placed on the campus, have potential, he said. Other test fits will likely be created as the district nears a site approval recommendation from the state Board of Education, Smith added.

“It is important to remind our communities that the state of Maine is a major partner in this project,” the superintendent said. “and while our Building Committee and Board may vote to support new construction on the present campus, the state will determine what option they believe is best suited and that decision will determine how much funding they will ultimately provide.”

Voters may decide in 12 months whether to build a new school, or renovate the existing 1973 structure.

The “new vs. reno” analysis marks the fifth part of a 21-step, state-required process that will include two public straw votes, according to School Administrative District 75‘s website. The first vote, and next step of the process, will be on the project location, while the second straw vote, deciding the building concept, is the 12th stage.

Should both votes reap positive results, a referendum on whether to fund the project would be triggered. The state Board of Education must grant four approvals along the way.

SAD 75 has applied for state school construction funding since 1999, and the school ranked seventh last year on a state construction funding list. The existing two-story structure, built with an “open concept,” has been described as a “school with no walls.”

A recent draft facilities study by PDT found that the high school should be rebuilt at the current campus, and the cost to renovate the school would exceed the cost of rebuilding.

The Building Committee agreed, unanimously supporting the recommendation Oct. 7. Input the district received in a series of forums in September leaned that way as well.

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

Brad Smith, superintendent of School Administrative District 75, stands in front of several “test fits,” or possible locations of a new Mt. Ararat High School on the existing Topsham campus, during a September public hearing in Harpswell. The School Board was expected to vote Thursday, Nov. 19, on whether to reconstruction or renovate the 1973 building.

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.