RSU 1 could vote on new high school this fall

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BATH – Regional School Unit 1 officials hope to have voters decide this fall whether to build a new high school.

In the meantime, a straw poll on the site of the Morse High School replacement could be held next month, RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said in an interview March 8. The district has asked the state Department of Education for a date to be set.

“We have one in mind, but we need to get their OK,” Manuel said.

The show-of-hands poll will be the sixth step in a 21-part, state-mandated process. A second straw vote, which marks the 12th step, will be on the building concept.

RSU 1 looks to build the school on a 26-acre parcel at the Wing Farm business park. The City Council last October approved the district’s option to purchase the property for $277,500. The district must exercise the option by July 31.

The district continues to work on the building design, and “our goal is to have a referendum in the fall of this year,” Manuel said.

The new, three-story Morse High School would also house the Bath Regional Career and Technical Center, which now sits separately from the 1920s High Street school.

“We’re looking at what makes sense for students and staff to have … and where to place things in the building,” said Manuel, whose district hired Lavallee Brensinger Architects – a Manchester, New Hampshire-based company – to provide architectural and engineering services for the project.

The district is also developing a prioritized list of what items to include in the project, above and beyond what the state will fund.

Nearby School Administrative District 75, of which Manuel is a resident, had its own successful school construction referendum March 7. The district plans to open a new Mt. Ararat High School in 2020.

Watching SAD 75 go through its process has been a learning experience for Manuel, he said.

The city and RSU 1 are still working to get out of a federal grant restriction imposed on property at the Wing Farm business park so they can move forward with the project.

A U.S. Economic Development Administration grant given jointly to Bath and West Bath provided the necessary funds to start development of the Wing Farm business park. But unless the EDA amends or removes a condition that bars nonprofits, including schools, from locating at Wing Farm, the new school cannot be built there.

For the condition to be removed, Bath will pay for its portion of the EDA buyout, and RSU 1 will pay for West Bath’s portion.

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

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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.