Section of Wentworth School could be spared for community programs

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SCARBOROUGH — Make space for Community Services or don’t make space and lose some services?

That is the question town councilors and the members of the Wentworth Building Committee are wrestling with as plans for the new 800-student intermediate school begin to take shape.

And there are no simple answers.

The current plan for the new building to replace the ailing Wentworth Intermediate School includes the demolition of the existing school and the nearby Bessworth building, which the town’s Community Services currently uses for daycare and preschool space.

“The idea that’s been put on the table is that it makes sense for the town to keep 50 square feet of the existing (Wentworth) building,” Wentworth Building Committee Chairman Paul Koziell said.

The proposal would keep the cafeteria, band room and office space for Community Services to use, while tearing down the rest of the Wentworth building.

“I absolutely would be in favor of that,” Community Services Child Care Manager Raelene Bodman said.

Bodman said she understands that the building committee, which she participates in, must consider the needs of the school first, but that if community space is destroyed, it is unlikely the programs that use it will continue.

“We will probably not be able to offer preschool,” she said.

Currently, the town provides preschool programs to more than 50 children in the Bessworth building, approximately 12 of whom stay after school for daycare. The building is also used for summer day camp, snow daycare, inter-generational activities and meeting space.

Town Council Chairwoman Judy Roy said she would like to see how a plan to use the Wentworth building would affect designs for the new building, as well as a cost analysis for the retrofitting and repairs necessary to prepare the building for Community Services’ use.

Initial estimates for the wetland mitigation that would be required and retrofitting and mitigating the old Wentworth building put the costs upwards to $5 million.

“Number one, can we fit it in in a way that is safe for children, and number two, financially, do we want to put more than $5 million into this?” Roy said.

But others are asking if the building, which has a history of air quality issues, is appropriate for anyone’s use.

“I think it’s ridiculous to ever put young or older people in there, period,” School Board and Building Committee member Aymie Hardesty said.

Hardesty, who has fought for regular air quality testing of the Wentworth building, is concerned that the issues, such as the drainage, mold growth and radon in the building’s underground trench system, will continue to cause problems.

“I’m all for community space, but I want it to be safe,” she said. “To keep a building that’s not insulated, impossible to heat, with poison tunnels, it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Bodman, who would potentially be working in the building all day, said she was confident that if the town was going to use the space for daycare and preschool facilities, that it would address the air quality issues. At the end of the day, for her, it was an issue of space.

“We have to look at the buildings that we have,” she said. “If the whole building gets torn down, we’re not going to be able to replace that right away.”

Keeping a section of the Wentworth building would also mean current plans to put the playground in back of the school and the car and bus drop zones in the front might not be possible. Also, wetlands would be disturbed as the building footprint is pushed further to the side.

“I want to talk to (the Department of Environmental Protection) about the wetlands. They’re marginal wetlands,” Roy said. “And I want to see some graphics that show me (keeping a section of Wentworth) could work for traffic flow.”

Roy said if the proposal was to move forward, she would like to see two questions on the ballot so voters could decide on the school and the Community Services projects separately.

Another option is to build an additional wing onto the new school building that would provide space for the preschool and daycare facilities.

Considering the costs of mitigating the hazards in the old Wentworth building, Hardesty said it might be more economical to add space to the new building.

She compared the $300,000 estimate to demolish the Wentworth building with the proposed $5 million estimated costs of the wetlands and mitigation of the old building.

“I don’t think there’s one school board member that wants to keep Wentworth,” she said. “I want a senior center, a community center, but I don’t want it in a poison building.”

Ultimately, what goes on the referendum bond question is the council’s decision.

“The committee can make its best recommendation, but if the Town Council comes back saying no, we want to keep Wentworth, then that would throw a wrench into everything.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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