South Portland panel picks Wescott Road for new middle school

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A new, combined middle school will likely be built at the existing Memorial Middle School property on Wescott Road, according to Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin. 

The formal announcement of the decision was expected Thursday night at a meeting of the Middle School Facilities Task Force.

Two information sessions are slated next week to update the community on the plan for the school. The sessions are scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 22, at Skillin Elementary School, and 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 23, at Small Elementary School, and will include a presentation by architect Michael Johanning and information about the Wescott Road site. 

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 the chosen site.

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

In August 2016, the state board placed Mahoney Middle School on its list of approved building projects, which put South Portland in line to receive state funding. A new, $50 million consolidated middle school for fifth through eighth grades could be completed as soon as 2022, with a referendum potentially scheduled for 2019. 

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

The Middle School Facilities Task Force recommended in a November community meeting that the city build a single school to replace the 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.

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 for a gym, cafeteria, and library. Separating the grades is intended to make the school feel almost like two smaller buildings.

Under the task force’s proposal, Memorial Middle School at 120 Wescott Road would be demolished, while Mahoney, a historic building at 240 Ocean St., will likely be preserved and revert to city property.

Mahoney was built in 1922. It houses just over 300 students in 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.

“The development of the concept design will involve more opportunities for community input as we strive to create a plan that will meet the needs of South Portland students far into the future,” Kunin said.

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

Mahoney Middle School at 240 Ocean St., South Portland, would be closed, but preserved, under a proposal to build a new combined school at the site of Memorial Middle School on Wescott Road.

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