SAD 75 high school proposal heads to March 7 vote

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TOPSHAM — Wednesday’s public hearing on a new Mt. Ararat High School marked the culmination of many meetings on the subject, and a crucial milestone in an effort that began in 1999 to procure state funding for the project.

Voters in the four School Administrative District 75 towns – Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham – will decide at referendum Tuesday, March 7, whether to build a new school to replace the current structure.

“We are pretty confident, based on the communications we’ve had with the people that have been attending those meetings, that we’re presenting something we hope the community will be proud of,” Building Committee Chairman John Hodge said.

“It’s quite a journey, but it’s been a great journey,” Hodge added. “We’ve had some great people working with us along the way, and we’ve had great input from the public.”

Polling will take place for the individual communities at the Topsham Fairgrounds Exhibition Hall, the Cundy’s Harbor Community Building in Harpswell, Elijah Kellogg Church in Harpswell, Old Orr’s Island School House, Bowdoin Central School and Bowdoinham Town Hall.

Voters will face two questions. First, whether to approve the base project at an amount not to exceed $60 million, which includes $6.2 million in locally funded items above and beyond what the state will pay. The second question, contingent on passage of the first, asks whether a $649,000 synthetic turf competition field should be added to the project.

The proposed 153,000-square-foot building, slightly smaller than the existing 44-year-old  school, is designed to house 750 students – 721 is the current projection for 2020 – with 40 classrooms, nine science classrooms and a 17,000 square-foot gym, according to Lyndon Keck of PDT Architects, the school’s designers.

The new structure, which would include 422 parking spaces, would replace an open-plan school built in 1973 that predominently lacks internal doors and walls.

Items to be funded locally include additional gym space, seven more general classrooms and an additional science classroom, all meant to bring those areas more in line with space allocations in the current school.

Other elements include solar hot water and a geothermal/geo-exchange system.

Items that would be paid for through a local fundraising initiative include baseball dugouts, athletic field scoreboards, a gym ropes course, and an irrigation sprinkler system.

The annual tax increase for the four towns is as follows: Topsham, $33 on an average home assessed at $182,000; Harpswell, $106 on a $425,000 home; Bowdoin, $46 on a $178,000 home; and Bowdoinham, $41 on a $178,000 home. Houses with higher assessed values will experience a proportionally higher tax impact.

More information is available at construction.link75.org.

The school received unanimous approval last month from the state Board of Education, a necessary step in order for the project to go to referendum.

If approved next month, the replacement for the 43-year-old Mt. Ararat High School could begin construction next year and open in fall 2020.

The new building would be constructed on the school’s competition field. The high school would be demolished, and the field rebuilt at the site of the former school by 2021.

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.