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Baxter Academy charter school faces 3rd 'final' inspection

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Baxter Academy charter school faces 3rd 'final' inspection

PORTLAND — Although the city's first charter school failed its first two building inspections, the school's director said Tuesday he remained optimistic about its third inspection.

Baxter Academy for Technology and Science is scheduled to open Sept. 4. It is expected to be inspected on Wednesday.

Carl Stasio, executive director of the school at 54 York St., said building problems have been narrowed to a "punch list of three or four items."

"I think this is a matter of tinkering and making sure that (Wednesday) everything on the punch list gets done, or that we have a very specific remedy," he said. "I think we're going to be good. I know that we're going to be good to go next week. How do I know? I know it in my gut."

The school failed its first inspection on Aug. 12, when the city noted several problems, including the need for firewalls and smoke barriers. The city's inspection also cited paperwork issues, and that the building didn't have its address on the exterior.

On Aug. 21, the school failed again. Most significantly, the school had no proof of tested sprinkler and alarm systems, and no alarm or sprinkler company present. The city also cited electrical problems and incorrect installation of the grounding for the fire alarm.

Tammy Munson, the city's building inspection program director, said the school's biggest hurdle Wednesday would be the "life-safety issues," such as the fire alarm system testing.

Still, the building's multiple inspections are not necessarily atypical, she said.

"This is pretty standard in commercial buildings. A lot of times there is more than one final inspection, " she said, adding "I wouldn't say (three final inspections) is rare, but typically the norm is two."

In addition to the building inspection, the school building also has to be OK'd by other city departments before it can receive its occupancy permit, Munson said.

Baxter still needs a site development review and a fire inspection, she said, although it could receive a temporary occupancy permit if all the life-safety issues are addressed.

Stasio said the building's age has complicated things, suggesting that any building built more than 100 years ago is going to have issues.

The building, which was first constructed in the 1800s, was home to several different businesses, including a bar and an Irish social club. But in 1866, someone tossed a firecracker into a barrel of shavings and ignited several buildings on Commercial, York and Danforth streets, including the Baxter building, according to the Maine Historical Society.

That fire, now known as the Great Fire of 1866, eventually spread and engulfed much of the Old Port and Munjoy Hill.

The building was rebuilt in 1900. Since then it has had several additions and has now been redesigned to accommodate classrooms, labs and offices for the charter school.

Baxter Academy's path has been rocky. In March, the school's board ousted the former executive director, lawsuits were threatened, and there were calls from Mayor Michael Brennan and state legislators for the school to be investigated.

Those issues have since been settled. The school received approval from the Maine Charter School Commission in May.

Baxter will be one of five charter schools in the state. Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of local school districts, although much of their funding is derived from money funneled away from traditional public schools.

If the school passes its next inspection, Stasio said 133 students are expected to start next week. Baxter has to have a minimum enrollment of 117 students, and is capped at 143.

Despite the inspections problems, Stasio said the biggest issue has been figuring out student transportation.

He said five students are currently on the waiting list and their families are contemplating moving closer to mitigate the transportation problems.

But what happens if the school does not complete the inspection requirements in time for the start of school?

"That's not going to happen," Stasio said. "All of these things need to be done ASAP and are going to get done ASAP and we're going to open (Sept. 4). If by chance I'm totally wrong, we'll have to figure that out."

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.