Panel studies Freeport High School upgrade

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FREEPORT — What started as a small group of parents trying to improve the safety, accessibility and appearance of Freeport High School has evolved into a community-wide project that will address the school’s capacity, structural needs, aesthetics and programming.

Ultimately, after community input and a potential public referendum, the school and campus could get a makeover.

The Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors agreed to hire Portland Design Team to develop a master plan to address identified needs for the school. It approved spending $40,000 from professional services in the operating budget.

On Wednesday, Jan. 18, Lyndon Keck of PDT presented the interim plan to nearly 50 members of the community, including RSU 5 board members, town councilors, parents, students, school staff and administrators.

Keck outlined the progress to date, and said the firm is halfway through its evaluation of the school and campus. It expects to compete its work by late March or April and will hold another series of public meetings at that time, he said.

PDT was asked to evaluate the qualitative and quantitative needs of the school, including the building and site, its ability to support 520 current students and the potential for a population of up to 600 students. 

The original school building was constructed in 1961; the library and industrial arts building in 1976; the gymnasium and locker rooms in 1985; and most recently the Freeport Performing Arts Center and the science wing in 2008.

While Keck said the buildings have been maintained throughout the years, there are areas that need attention – specifically the bathrooms and plumbing fixtures, electrical sub panels, the fiber optic backbone, windows, and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and accessibility. 

“You’ve been investing strategically and it appears to me to say this is a good candidate to continue staying here. The building itself is structurally sound, you’ve continued to invest and it is a good candidate to continue to stay here long-term,” he said. “But that is separate from the issue of the site and if it can handle the growth.”

Keck said with 520 students, the high school does not currently have enough space for each student. With a potential growth of up to 600 students, the space would become even more inadequate, he said.

“Based on what we know, it feels to us you are short about three or four classrooms,” he said.

The plan explores installing an all-weather track and turf field by relocating the softball field, adding two more tennis courts and parking to accommodate 20 additional cars. 

As a way to add more classroom space, Keck proposed building a second story in a few areas. He also talked about creating a wellness center with training and exercise rooms for students and members of the community. Additional growth could be placed on the corners of the science wing for classrooms, he added.

He noted the ideas are not part of a final master plan , but an interim outline.

“We’ve just identified places where we think things can grow, and we’ve looked for conflicts and opportunities,” he said. “The next stage of our work is to identify what we think are your actual shortages of space and develop floor plans that will address if we think you should consider some additions.”

The design firm will put together a plan that will identify phasing of the project, and will finally identify costs needed for construction.

A handful of residents offered suggestions about the safety and traffic patterns, concerns about losing the Peace Garden space in the center of the high school, and comments about relocating the front of the building to the side or back of the  building.

Keck encouraged residents to share their ideas with PDT, with Principal Bob Strong or Superintendent Shannon Welsh.

“We are like a factory model, with a lot of doors a long a narrow hallway,” Strong said. “This study includes exploring ways to open the classrooms, have students work together in open spaces, together.”

He said he is familiar with schools that have multiple stories, and said building up at the high school makes sense.

“Having public input and their suggestions and concerns has been so helpful in this study,” he said. “With more community forums, we will hopefully gather a lot of helpful information to add to the project.”

The community forum will be aired on local Channel 14, Strong said, and a video of the presentation is available on the Freeport Facilities Study website found through the RSU5 high school homepage at http://fhs.rsu5.org.

There will be a meeting of the Facilities Study Committee on Thursday, Feb. 2 at the Freeport High School at 4:30 p.m. and presentations to the Freeport Town Council and Durham community in the coming weeks. The plan was presented this week to Pownal selectmen.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.

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