Study: Morse High School in Bath not fit for renovation or expansion

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BATH — The Morse High School property is not suitable for replacement or expansion of either the school or its technical center, a site study has concluded.

As a result, three other sites are being considered for a new school.

The study of the school and the Bath Regional Career and Technical Center found “the existing site (at 826 High St.) is unsuitable due to the limits on the physical area available for expansion of the school resulting from sheer lack of land.”

“Splitting some of the site program with another site still leaves insufficient area at the existing site for even the basic program,” the analysis determined.

That study was prepared by Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, a South Portland engineering company, for Lavallee Brensinger Architects of Manchester, New Hampshire. Regional School Unit 1 hired Lavallee Brensinger to provide architectural and engineering services.

RSU 1 is determining whether to rebuild or renovate the school, which was built in the late 1920s and expanded in the 1960s.  Facilities Director David Richards described some major issues in the building in December 2014:

• Steam boilers from 1987 that have nearly reached the end of their 30-year lives.

• Accessibility challenges.

• A shortage of good student drop-off and pickup areas outside the school.

• And bricks that wick moisture from outside to inside, causing calcium deposits and cracks around windows.

The study notes that Morse’s footprint is about 124,000 square feet, while the technical center’s is nearly 43,000 square feet, for a total of approximately 167,000 square feet. But it said the two facilities will need more than 200,000 square feet.

“In addition to the need to expand the building size, the existing school has inefficient and/or problematic access conditions for deliveries, student, staff, and school buses,” the study added. “The site contains approximately 144 off-street parking spaces across four or five small parking lots, thus there is a significant lack of adequate off street parking.”

An analysis of available land determined that the “potential development area within the bounds of High Street, Chestnut Street, and Lincoln Street is about 10 acres, nearly all of which is developed with single-family homes or related residential uses other than the school site.”

The study found that at least 20 acres of contiguous land would be needed, but that it is not available at the current site.

RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel on Monday said other sites being considered for a new high school are two near Bath Middle School, and one at Wing Farm Park, near the superintendent’s office.

“The architect is trying to come up with some different scenarios that the (RSU 1) Building Committee and the Site Selection Committee, and everyone, could weigh in on,” Manuel said.

Along with the School Board, the state Department of Education and Bureau of General Services are also participants in the decision, Manuel noted.

A public meeting will likely be held this fall, he said, where a non-binding straw poll vote would be taken about whether to build a new school – and at which location – or renovate or build new on the existing site, Manuel said.

The project is guided by a 21-step major capital school construction process.

The analysis determining whether to rebuild or renovate the school is the fifth step, and this fall’s straw vote is No. 6. A local referendum, assuming the state Board of Education approves the project concept, is No. 13.

Bonding, construction and a project audit are the final three steps.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Sidebar Elements

A recent study of Morse High School at 826 High St. in Bath determined it is not suitable for replacement or expansion of either the school or nearby technical center.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.