South Portland middle school decision 'moving at good pace'

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The Middle School Building Committee received five bids from firms interested in reconfiguring and redesigning the city’s middle schools.

Bidders were Harriman Associates, PDT Architects, Stephen Blatt Architects and WBRC Architects-Engineers, all of Portland, and Lavallee/Brensinger Architects of Manchester, New Hampshire. 

A subcommittee will choose a finalist in early January before a formal recommendation is presented to the School Board in late January, board Chairman Dick Matthews, who is also a member of the building committee, said.

The committee hopes to begin working with the firm in February, Matthews said Monday. 

After reconvening earlier this spring following a five-year hiatus, the building committee was tasked with analyzing the physical condition of Memorial and Mahoney middle schools. It also weighed the advantages of combining schools and potential locations for a new or renovated building. 

Memorial Middle School, at 120 Westcott Road, was built in 1967 and has about 420 students in 94,000 square feet of space. Mahoney Middle School, built in 1922 at 240 Ocean St., serves about 300 students in 92,000 square feet. 

For nearly a decade the School Department has weighed the need to restructure and update both schools, primarily because they are the only ones in the city that have not had major renovations. Health and safety upgrades have been completed at both schools in recent years, but other issues, including Mahoney’s lack of handicapped accessibility, must be addressed soon, Assistant Superintendent Kathy Germani said in August. 

Providing adequate programming to students in unimproved structures is a challenge, Germani said. That, coupled with the additional cost incurred from maintaining two buildings – an extra $750,000-$1 million a year, according to former Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin – makes it worthwhile to explore a merger.

Godin unsuccessfully proposed consolidation in 2010. Before resigning earlier this year, she said the biggest issue the department faced was the cost associated with operating two middle schools. Godin’s replacement as superintendent, Ken Kunin, has also said resolving the middle school issue is one of his goals for the district

Since 2010, when the committee applied for state funding to renovate both schools, Mahoney has ranked near the top 10, but the district has yet to receive any state aid. 

The cost associated with hiring a firm has not been determined, Matthews said, and won’t be until the committee figures out what specific services it wants the firm to provide. 

The scope of services outlined in the request for qualifications included estimates and financing options, exploring alternative energy sources, determining programming needs for students, and how those needs would be met with a new or updated facilities. 

The committee will present its findings to the School Board, which will decide how to move forward. If the state has not released funding at that point, Matthews said, it could come down to asking “whether or not this community wants to support another bond.”

“The good thing is,” he said, “the committee is in a very secure place moving forward to bring their recommendation to the School board. That’s a huge step in the right direction. We’re moving at a pretty good pace.” 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

Memorial Middle School, at 120 Wescott Road. 

Mahoney Middle School. 

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.