Maine releases school building priorities, but not funding

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AUGUSTA — School projects in South Portland, Bath, Topsham and Portland were among the top 20 priorities for school construction funds from the state.

But how much money, if any, will be available for those projects is unclear.

The Department of Education released a priority list on Wednesday afternoon of the more than 70 schools who applied for state funding.

DOE Spokesman David Connerty-Marin said there were no estimates about how much school construction funding would be available, or how many projects may move forward.

But some superintendents have said they were told there would be $100 million to $120 million available this time around.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said in a written statement that the ranking exercise will help the DOE understand each school district’s needs.

“When resources become available, we’ll be able to address the most significant needs first,” Bowen said.

Schools in Corinth, Sanford, Newport and Fryeburg were the state’s top six priorities.

Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham ranked seventh. Principal Craig King said School District 75 must decide whether to renovate the existing early 1970s structure or rebuild it.

“We have a beautiful campus,” he said. “I’d want our high school to be on this campus, because we have so much green space, walking trails, athletic fields, the pond.”

Regardless of which direction SAD 75 takes, a lack of accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act needs to be addressed, King said, and modern classroom spaces that are well ventilated and lit are needed.

Morse High School in Bath ranked 11th. Regional School Unit 1 Superintendent William Shuttleworth said he was “delighted” with Morse High School’s ranking. He said it can take up to 50 gallons of oil an hour to heat the building, portions of which date back to the 1920s.

Shuttleworth said he hopes the project will receive funding, despite the current economic conditions.

“I would like to think that the state would continue to see school construction as a major investment in kids, (and as) an economic investment for the workforce development,” he said.

South Portland’s Mahoney Middle School project ranked 14th, and the Memorial Middle School project came in 55th. The district would like to build a new middle school to serve the entire city.

South Portland Superintendent Suzanne Godin said she was pleased with the ranking Mahoney received.

“It was a pleasant surprise for us,” Godin said. “We didn’t think it would rank that high. The reality of the money (for the project): probably not this round.” 

Godin said the project is well positioned to receive funding within the next three to five years.

In Portland, Fred P. Hall Elementary School ranked 12th, while the Longfellow School ranked 18th, Reiche Elementary School ranked 21st, Presumpscot School ranked 33rd and Lyseth Elementary School ranked 43rd.

Portland Superintendent James Morse Sr. said he was happy that Hall School ranked 12th, since it is a “stick-built” that has been showing its age.

But Morse is not optimistic the project will be funded, since there are three high school projects in front of it.

It’s not unusual for high school projects to cost more than $50 million, he said, while a new elementary school in Portland was just built for $14 million.

“If it was elementary schools in that top group, Hall would stand a strong chance,” Morse said. “But with high schools in the way, I’m very concerned.”

Bath’s Fisher-Mitchell School, meanwhile, ranked 60th and the Dike-Newell School came in 66th. North Yarmouth Memorial Middle School came in 65th.

Connerty-Marin said Bowen could choose which projects to fund, if any, as early as this summer, but is not bound by any time line.

Connerty-Marin said the state reviewed 71 applications. The oldest school was built in 1861, while 14 were built in the 1970s or later. Six schools housed more than 40 percent of their students in portable classrooms.

The rankings were achieved through a scoring system that evaluated safety, program deficiencies, enrollment and over-crowding, among others.

School districts will have 60 days to review the list and appeal their ranking. After that, the list is considered final.

The last time the state ranked and funded school construction projects was in 2004-05. Twenty-two schools were approved for renovation or construction then.

Staff reporter Alex Lear contributed to this story

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-366 1ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net Alex Lear contributed to this report.

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