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Topsham high school vote not expected before late 2016

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Topsham high school vote not expected before late 2016

TOPSHAM — A "Public Visioning" meeting Tuesday night was an early step along the road to a vote on whether to rebuild or renovate Mt. Ararat High School.

The project architect said work could begin no sooner than late 2016 or mid-2017.

School Administrative District 75 has applied for state school construction funding since 1999, and the high school ranked seventh last year on a state construction funding list. The existing two-story building was constructed in 1973 with an "open" concept, and has been called a "school with no walls."

"This is one of those unusual schools which was an open-plan school designed in the '70s," architect Lyndon Keck of Portland-based PDT said in the meeting at the school. "People thought that was a great idea then, it turned out to be a bad idea then, and it's an even worse idea now."

The school has few windows, much open interior space, few walls, and significant disruption between classes, he noted.

"I think as this project rolls along, more people from the public hopefully will want to get involved," Keck said. "Everybody is always concerned about what it's going to cost, where's it going to be, and how's it going to affect my taxes."

None of that has been determined, he noted. In the meantime, his firm is studying the existing school and its needs, as well as those of its students, faculty, staff, parents and other community members. PDT will determine whether it is more feasible to renovate or build anew.

"If we do stay (in the existing building), we're going to gut this place," Keck said. "... There are a lot of people that are afraid of doing ... a renovation, because they're very disappointed in the way the building functions now. And what I'm always trying to do is reassure people that if indeed we stay here, this will be a completely different facility. It'll look like a brand-new building."

The project will likely not go to voters until November 2016 or June 2017, Keck said. Concept design takes 18 to 24 months.

The roughly 30 meeting participants watched a slide show featuring PDT's work at the Mt. Blue Learning Campus, and in small groups answered questions about what they would like to see in the next generation of Mt. Ararat High.

Qualities the participants favored included a "Main Street" component running through the school, natural lighting, green and sustainable features, a greater number of vocational classes, keeping up with the pace of technology, and stronger connections between the Topsham-based school and SAD 75's other three communities (Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham).

A second input-gathering meeting will be held at the high school commons from 7-8:30 p.m. June 4. A tour of the school will be available after the meeting. Public meetings on the project will be held in each of the four towns in September.

Log onto construction.link75.org for information about the project and how to become involved.

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