Forecaster Forum: Wentworth school project will strengthen Scarborough

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After reading last week’s Forum by Jeffrey Messer, I would like to give the voters of Scarborough the correct information regarding the proposed Wentworth Intermediate School replacement project.

As a practicing architectural designer for 13 years, I understand all aspects of schematic design and planning a new facility of this size. I routinely work with design programs to layout new space, based on guidelines, code requirements and owner requests.

First, I would note Wentworth Intermediate School, with grades three to five, is an elementary school, not a middle school. Second, I would like to address the concerns about building size and the square feet per student.

The existing school is roughly 106,000 square feet, with close to a third of this as portable classrooms and storage. The proposed school is 163,000 square feet. The very responsible and concerned members of the Building Committee have worked diligently to minimize the square footage of the proposed school.

There are no state Department of Education or national education guidelines that dictate the median square footage per student for a proposed new school. Each school district has different needs for space. The proposed Wentworth Intermediate School square footage incorporates all of the functions that occur in the existing building. The district-wide kitchen and storage space is used to provide meals to all K-5 students in the Scarborough school system. Storage areas are present for the Gym Dandies program and high school track, which uses the building for practice during the winter months, and the gym is sized to accommodate all grade levels of activities and community services.

This building size will not compromise any student’s educational experience. Schools today are mandated to accommodate many special education needs, which increases the square footage of the building. Today at Wentworth, these programs are compromised due to inadequate space. The committee incorporated a 15 percent buffer into the design to address future growth, as Scarborough is a fast-growing community, and because of this, no infrastructure updates will be required until the student population expands beyond 900 children.

Also, the proposed $39.1 million project will not be the most expensive locally funded project in state history. There are other local communities facing larger, fully locally funded projects; South Portland and Biddeford both exceed our project cost. These communities are faced with a similar issue of not landing high on the Department of Education list of top priority for school construction dollars from the state.

The truth is this one of the best times in recent history to put a project of this size out to bid. Low interest rates, coupled with many construction companies needing work, equals great value per square foot. The proposed plan estimate is coming in at $240 per square foot, which compared to many recent school projects in the state, is excellent, giving Scarborough a lot of school for the dollar.

I encourage my fellow citizens to get out and vote yes on Tuesday, Nov. 8. The building committee has worked countless hours to bring the best proposal, to strengthen the community in the long term. Strong schools create strong communities.

Matthew Ranger is a Scarborough resident and member of the Wentworth Building Committee.