South Portland panel backs plan for consolidated middle school

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A new, $50 million consolidated middle school for fifth through eighth grades could be completed as soon as 2022, with a  referendum tentatively scheduled for 2018.

The Middle School Facilities Committee recommended in a Nov. 9 community meeting at South Portland High School that the city build a single school to replace the city’s two aging middle schools.

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

All options would house students in grades 6-8. Any additions beyond state guidelines would have to be funded locally.

The new school for grades 5-8 would be funded entirely or mostly by the state, according to school officials. Where it would be built is still under review; the committee is considering several undisclosed locations. The Mahoney Middle School property, however, has been determined to be too small for a consolidated school.

The new school would have separate wings for fifth- and sixth-graders and seventh- and eighth-graders, with shared space in the middle for a gym, cafeteria, and library. Separating the grades is intended to make the school feel almost like two smaller buildings.

“When you move into a larger school it is critical to make it seem smaller and more personal,” Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin said.

There will be several more meetings and two straw polls, one on site selection and another on a concept design in coming months, school officials said. The next meeting was scheduled for Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the high school.

Assistant Superintendent Kathy Germani said a single middle school is “equitable and it is responsible for the taxpayers of the city.”

“(Mahoney) is a beautiful building and it’s not going anywhere,” said architect Michael Johanning of WBRC, which is working on the project.

Mahoney Middle School was approved for state funding in 2016, but the city could instead receive state funding for construction of a combined middle school. Any renovations to Memorial would have to be paid for by city taxpayers, but the building committee concluded that Memorial is at the end of its useful life.

Mahoney Middle School was built in 1922. It has a little more than 300 students and is about 92,000 square feet. Memorial was built in 1967 and has nearly 400 students in approximately 94,000 square feet, according to the School Department.

Kunin said having fifth-graders at a combined middle school will free space for more pre-kindergarten programming that parents are requesting at the city’s elementary schools.

Also under consideration for the new middle school is an environmentally friendly geothermal system that would save on heating costs over time. Kunin said the state will only pay for a basic heating system and the geothermal system would be installed at taxpayer expense. However, it would cost almost nothing to operate and include air conditioning.

Kunin said heating Mahoney and Memorial now costs about $200,000 per year. There is no estimate available of how much a geothermal system would cost.

Johanning said the state would only pay for limited air conditioning with the basic heating system for areas such as special education classrooms and offices.

Many residents at the meeting supported the idea of a single, consolidated school.

“This strikes me as fiscally responsible and supports education,” Tess Vasilievich said. 

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

South Portland’s Mahoney Middle School, 240 Ocean St., is not ADA-accessible. Custodian Genaro Balzano demonstrates a chairlift that must be operated by a staff member; it occupies an entire stairwell when operating and takes seven minutes from top to bottom.

The exterior wall at Memorial Middle School, 20 Wescott Road, is bowed and the brickwork is starting to separate.

A science lab at Mahoney Middle School has water infiltration issues around some windows.

Memorial Middle School, 20 Wescott Road, has water infiltration issues and leaks throughout the building.

Mahoney Middle School, 240 Ocean St., is in disrepair.

An exterior wall at Memorial Middle School, 20 Wescott Road, is separating from the third floor.

Memorial Middle School, 20 Wescott Road, can be seen from the bridge area of the school that is supported by posts. It has been found to be structurally sound but would not be salvageable or meet current codes. The cafeteria/auditorium and offices are located in the bridge area.

The exterior of Memorial Middle School, 20 Wescott Road, has single-pane windows and aluminum wall construction, which leaves the school basically uninsulated.

Mahoney Middle School, 240 Ocean St., South Portland.

Memorial Middle School, 20 Wescott Road.

Mahoney Middle School, 240 Ocean St., South Portland.

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