SAD 75 to vote on using existing campus for new Topsham high school

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TOPSHAM — Residents of the four towns in School Administrative District 75 will decide in a Jan. 21, 2016, straw vote whether to build a new Mt. Ararat High School on the existing campus.

The decision will not identify a specific location on the 40-acre campus, SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith said in an interview last week.

“The straw vote is simply saying, ‘do you approve of remaining on this campus?’,” Smith said, adding that it could be four or five months until a specific site is determined.

The show-of-hands vote is open to all residents from Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham – and not just registered voters, Smith said. The tally will be counted and reported to the state. The straw vote is scheduled to be held at the Mt. Ararat High School Commons at 6 p.m.

“We hope we have a good turnout so that we can show the state of Maine that this is a project that our community really supports and is enthusiastic about,” he added.

The SAD 75 Board of Directors voted unanimously Nov. 19 to build a new school to replace the existing building, which is 42 years old.

The board then on Dec. 10 unanimously supported the district Building Committee’s recommendation to place the new building on the school campus, and advocated a location that would allow students to remain in the existing building during construction – in other words, not encroaching on the school’s footprint.

Six potential “test fits” – an analysis of possible new sites on the campus – are on the table, Smith said.

The “new vs. renovation” analysis marks the fifth step in a 21-part, state-required process that will include two public straw votes, according to the district website. The Jan. 21 vote on the project location will be followed by a one on the building concept, which is the 12th stage.

If both votes generate positive results, a referendum would be held next November on whether the project should be funded. Four approvals by the state Board of Education are also required.

“If what we’re proposing doesn’t look feasible in the state’s best interests to go in that direction, (the state) will steer us away from that,” Smith said.

The cost of a new school remains a moving target, but is likely to be more than $40 million, he explained.

SAD 75 had applied since 1999 for state school construction funding, and the school ranked seventh last year on a state construction funding list.

A recent draft facilities study by Portland-based architectural firm PDT, which SAD 75 hired to work on the project, determined that the high school should be rebuilt at the current site, and that the cost to renovate the school would exceed the cost to rebuild.

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

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.