RSU 1 forum to weigh rebuilding Bath school vs. renovation

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BATH — Whether Morse High School should be renovated or rebuilt is the question facing residents of Regional School Unit 1 at a forum on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the school’s Montgomery Theatre, at 826 High St. 

The discussion follows conclusions reached by a study completed this summer that determined the Morse property is not a suitable site for a renovation or expansion of the school or its technical center.

In discussions Monday night, the RSU 1 Board of Directors leaned toward that conclusion, too.

“Across the board, I think all of the board members supported building new over renovation,” panel Chairman Tim Harkins said Tuesday, adding directors are concerned that, if the district pursues renovation, the work could be disruptive to students.

“We would be doing them a disservice, to try to educate them at that facility while at the same time going through a serious renovation,” Harkins said. “From a practical standpoint, there just isn’t the space on that footprint to accommodate the building materials, the manpower, the equipment that would be needed to add on or make changes to that building.”

That conclusion reflects a study prepared by Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, a South Portland engineering company, for Lavallee Brensinger Architects of Manchester, New Hampshire. RSU 1 hired Lavallee Brensinger to provide architectural and engineering services.

The study of the 1920s school and the Bath Regional Career and Technical Center found “the existing site … unsuitable due to the limits on the physical area available for expansion of the school resulting from sheer lack of land.”

The study notes that Morse’s footprint is about 124,000 square feet, while the technical center is nearly 43,000 square feet, for a total of approximately 167,000 square feet. But according to the study’s findings, the two facilities will need more than 200,000 square feet.

“In addition to the need to expand the building size, the existing school has inefficient and/or problematic access conditions for deliveries, student, staff, and school buses,” according to the study’s findings. “The site contains approximately 144 off-street parking spaces across four or five small parking lots, thus there is a significant lack of adequate off street parking.”

“A lot of things will fall into place once that decision is made,” Harkins said of renovation versus reconstruction.

The district has also been exploring alternative sites near Bath Middle School and at Wing Farm Park.

The project is guided by a 21-step major capital school construction process.

The analysis to determine whether to rebuild or renovate the school is the fifth step, and a nonbinding community straw vote – approving either renovation or a new school at a specified site, depending on which the School Board proposes – is the sixth step.

“The state only wants one option in that straw vote; they only want the board to present one option to the public,” Harkins said.

If the state Board of Education approves the project concept, a local referendum will be held Nov. 13.

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

Regional School Unit 1 community members will weigh in at a forum Oct. 7 whether Morse High School in Bath should be rebuilt or renovated.

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.