South Portland eyes $50M plan for new middle school

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SOUTH PORTLAND — School officials this week made the case for closing Mahoney Middle School and demolishing Memorial Middle School, and replacing them with a $50 million building for grades 5-8 on Wescott Road.

School Board Chairwoman Mary House told 50 people at a public forum Wednesday night at Small Elementary School that she understands it will be a major change for the community, but asked for the public’s support.

Some members of the public who spoke at the meeting said they were concerned about building the school away from the city’s more residential and central locations.

Other options included a new Mahoney Middle School at a new site at state expense for $23 million, or renovating Mahoney for an estimated $26 million at state expense and building a new Memorial Middle School for $30 million at local expense.

The Middle School Facilities Task Force recommended in a community meeting last November recommended that the city build a single school to replace the two aging middle schools. The panel’s preference for Wescott Road was announced last week.

The district researched other locations for the new school, including land near the high school on Highland Avenue and at the Wainwright Fields sports complex. But neither of those options are viable because land on Highland Avenue is not available for construction, and the Wainwright family wants the land they contributed dedicated for recreation.

The School Department searched for parcels that were at least 10 acres in size, which posed a challenge, officials said.

Under the proposal, Memorial Middle School at 120 Wescott Road would be demolished, while Mahoney, at 240 Ocean St., will likely be preserved and returned to the city. It is not up to code in many areas, according to School Department architect Michael Johanning, including ADA compliance and ventilation standards.

A public straw poll on the site selection will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 13, in the South Portland High School cafeteria. That meeting will include a short presentation and will pose a single question about support for developing a middle school on Wescott Road.

According to Assistant Superintendent of Schools Kathy Germani, the district has been analyzing facilities and researching a new middle school since 2004.

If the project comes to fruition, fifth-graders would be moved to the new school, which would create space in the elementary schools and allow the pre-kindergarten program to expand, Germani said. There are 56 slots for students in this year’s pre-K program, but many families remain on the waiting list, she said.

Germani said closets, alcoves and offices in the elementary schools have been turned into classroom space with the influx of English Language Learners and students with special needs, prompting the need for more room.

The new school would have two wings, one for fifth- and sixth-grade students, and one for the seventh- and eighth-graders, and include a shared gym, library and cafeteria. Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin said the district is looking at geothermal and solar energy in an effort to operate a nearly net-zero building.

There is a 21-step process the city must complete before the plan is approved by the Maine Department of Education. If that happens, a referendum on the project could be slated for November 2019, and the building could open in 2022.

If the state gives the go-ahead after the site straw poll, “we will move into developing the concept for a new school,” Kunin said.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

Memorial Middle School in South Portland may be demolished and a new school for grades 5-8 built on the Wescott Road property.

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