Poll supports new Topsham high school on existing campus

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TOPSHAM — School Administrative District 75 got a strong endorsement from residents Jan. 21 for a new high school on the existing Mt. Ararat High School campus.

Residents of Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham voted 85-0 in a show-of-hands straw poll in favor of the site. The vote did not identify a specific location on the 40-acre campus, but concerned only whether the new school should be placed somewhere on the property. A specific site could be determined within a few months.

A second question, on whether voters were opposed to placing the school on the existing campus, received no votes. Applause followed, and the tallies were to be reported to the state.

A recent draft facilities study by PDT, a Portland-based architectural firm hired for the project by SAD 75, recommended the high school be rebuilt at the current site, noting that the cost to renovate the existing school would exceed the cost to rebuild.

PDT has developed eight test fits of the site, showing how a new building would look, alongside athletic fields, in various scenarios. With the straw vote decision in hand, SAD 75’s Building Committee for the project will work to narrow the different options down to one, likely to be presented in public meetings.

The vote at the high school Commons was one of seven crucial decisions to be made in the course of the project, SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith told the audience. That course is determined by a 21-part, state-mandated process that includes two public straw votes, according to the district website.

The second straw vote will be on the building concept. Building and site designs will be ready, along with the tax impact to each town, by that time, Lyndon Keck of PDT told the audience. Cost estimates are to start later this spring.

Four approvals by the state Board of Education are also required, according to Smith: site, concept design, design and funding, and final funding. It is unknown at this point what percentage of the project the state will fund, Keck said.

The seventh and final approval will be a referendum, possibly this November or in June 2017, on whether the project should be funded.

Construction could begin late in 2017, with the new school occupied by 2019 or 2020, according to PDT.

“This … SAD community has the most number of citizen volunteers that I’ve seen in the last 20 years that I’ve worked on school projects,” Keck said. “So SAD 75 and the four towns are to be commended for that.”

“We have come a long way from when we first found out that we were going to be able to do something about our high school facility,” Smith said, noting SAD 75 has applied since 1999 for state construction funds, until the school finally ranked seventh in 2014 on a state funding list.

The SAD 75 Board of Directors voted unanimously last November to build a new school to replace the existing building, which is 42 years old.

The Building Committee meets in the high school Learning Commons at 5:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month.

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

School Administrative District 75 residents voted 85-0 in a straw poll Jan. 21 in favor of building a new high school on the current Mt. Ararat High School campus in Topsham.

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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.