New Topsham high school passes 2 straw-poll hurdles

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TOPSHAM — The components and costs of a new School Administrative District 75 high school, including locally funded elements like an artificial turf field, were supported by residents Wednesday in two non-binding votes.

The straw polls, held at the to-be-replaced Mt. Ararat High School, are the 12th step in a 21-part, state-mandated process. Residents of the four SAD 75 towns –Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham – voted 85-0 in the first show-of-hands straw poll Jan. 21 – the sixth step in the state process – in favor of building the new school on the Eagles Way campus.

Wednesday’s first poll asked voters to approve the new school – which would cost $60 million – including $6.2 million in locally funded items above and beyond what the state will pay. That question – which did not include the turf field – passed, 138-5, with the tally including both a show of hands and written ballots submitted by those who left before the vote was taken.

The second question included the turf field – a $649,000 local option that raises the total cost to $60.7 million. That option passed 111-28.

“The straw vote is an informal way to tell the state Board (of Education) whether or not the community supports the project,” SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith told the audience at the start of the nearly 90-minute gathering.

More information is available at construction.link75.org.

John Hodge, chairman of the school project’s Building Committee, said the turf field was broken out into a separate vote due to the amount of discussion it received in recent public meetings.

“The first aspect of our job was to get a project that could pass referendum,” he said. “There was just a little bit of a hinge of worry that perhaps that might drag the whole project down.”

Lyndon Keck of Portland-based PDT Architects said a turf field should last about 10-12 years, with a replacement cost between $450,000 and $700,000.

“When it comes time to replace the turf field, that is a local … maintenance and operation cost,” he said.

Still, Keck noted, such a surface is equivalent to two or 2 1/2 regular grass fields in terms of use – during rainstorms and right after snow melts, for example – that artificial turf can provide.

David Douglass, a Topsham selectman, stated his opposition to a turf field. He noted the investment of the replacement cost every 10 years, on top of bond payments for the original field.

He also mentioned news reports of the potential risks of cancer surrounding the use of crumb rubber, a cheaper material that would be used on Topsham’s field.

Keck acknowledged those concerns, saying that results of a study into the matter, conducted by the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other authorities, is about to be released. Ethylene propylene diene monomer, or EPDM, has been considered as an almost equally cheap alternative that does not come from non-recycled rubber tires, he added.

“The industry is rapidly expanding what the choices are,” Keck said.

The project will go to referendum in March, and, if approved, the replacement for the 43-year-old Mt. Ararat High School could open in fall 2020.

The new building would be constructed on nearby sports fields. The existing school would be demolished, and the fields rebuilt at the site of the former school by 2021.

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

Residents of School Administrative District 75’s four towns voted in two straw polls Wednesday, Dec. 14, at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, on components and costs of a new high school.

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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.