SAD 75 breaks ground on new Mt. Ararat High School

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TOPSHAM — Today, it’s a sports field. In 2020, it’ll be a brand new Mt. Ararat High School.

School Administrative District 75 officials and residents celebrated the beginning of new school construction with a groundbreaking ceremony June 7.

SAD 75 voters approved the project in March 2017. The cost of the base project is not to exceed $60 million, which includes $6.2 million for locally-funded items the state will not cover.

Since the new school will be built on the existing school’s competition field, construction of new fields is taking place first. That way, the school maintains access to a multipurpose field and baseball field while construction is underway.

Mt. Ararat High School, built in 1973, will be demolished, with a $649,000 artificial turf field – the main athletic field, with a track – built on the site by 2021. A practice field between the new baseball/practice fields and the turf field has been substantially completed.

“Good schools and good communities go hand in hand,” Superintendent Brad Smith told the ceremony’s audience. “… The four towns of MSAD 75 are truly unique, truly remarkable, and that’s due to the people who live and work here. This project became a reality due to the combined efforts of so many people.”

“None of this would be happening today if it weren’t for the support given to us by the community and students of MSAD 75,” he added.

The district’s road to a new school had its fair share of obstacles, as recalled by David Johnson, a longtime Harpswell representative on the SAD 75 Board of Directors.

SAD 75’s process of applying to the state Board of Education for help in funding major capital improvements began in 1999, he said. State officials visited those schools that applied and numerically graded them, with those in most dire need of renovation or replacement placed at the top of the list.

“The state only opens up these school construction funding cycles every few years,” Johnson explained. “And (a) very limited number of school projects are approved for the funding.”

“Having been on the board over 20 years, I can tell you, four times SAD 75 applied, and four times Mt. Ararat was not ranked high enough,” he added.

The state approved the top 20 applications in 2005; Mt. Ararat was in 21st place, having “missed the top 20 by 0.02 points,” Johnson lamented.

The school placed seventh out of 71 applicants in 2010’s cycle, but only the top five received funding. But with more funding available in 2014, the next six schools were approved, Johnson said. Mt. Ararat was finally getting a new school, along with Morse High School, in nearby Bath.

“The nine years after the disappointment of 2005 were forgotten, and we were on our way,” he said. “It has been an incredible journey.”

Johnson recalled walking through the halls of the building as a senior and noted that since the school at the time housed grades 7-12, this new building will be SAD 75’s first true high school.

“The kids will be here, they’ll walk through that,” he said. “It’ll be something special for them and their kids.”

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

Administrators, committee members and architects involved in the planning of a new Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham during a groundbreaking ceremony June 7.

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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.