Topsham high school project goes to 2nd vote Dec. 12

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TOPSHAM — A straw poll on the design of a new School Administrative District 75 high school is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 12.

The SAD 75 Board of Directors twice Nov. 17, 11-1 in separate decisions both to set the date, and to approve “in concept” recommendations from the district’s Building Committee about the project.

In the time remaining before the straw poll, SAD 75 and Portland-based PDT Architects will work with the state Department of Education to finalize the design and the accompanying cost. The School Board may vote on the final design Dec. 8.

The project could go to referendum in March, and if approved, the replacement for the 43-year-old Mt. Ararat High School could open in fall 2020.

A detailed visual is available at

Kathy Kahill of PDT, lead architect on the project, showed the School Board digital 3-D renderings of the future school, and how certain elements would fit into the design.

The state-funded portion of the project could run between $50 million and $60 million, Lyndon Keck of PDT previously said. That leaves roughly $8 million in elements that would have to be funded locally.

Those elements, as recommended by the Building Committee to the School Board Nov. 17, could include additional gym space ($1.7 million), seven more general classrooms ($1.7 million), and an additional science classroom ($289,000), all meant to bring those areas more in line with space allocations in the current school.

Other items the committee recommended for local funding include an additional science classroom ($289,000), solar hot water ($48,000), a snow melt system at major entrances ($60,500), a synthetic turf athletic field ($939,000), a geothermal/geo-exchange system ($665,500), and 72 additional parking spaces at the athletic field ($418,000).

Those items add up to $6.8 million to be funded locally; the state will contribute to a few of those costs. For every $1 million in projects not funded by the state, a typical homeowner would pay about $5 a year across the four towns, SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith has said.

Other elements, which the Building Committee recommended for fundraising, include an athletic field scoreboard ($48,000), a second scoreboard at an accessory gym ($18,000), a baseball field scoreboard ($36,000), and an indoor ropes course ($18,000) – for a total of $121,000.

The numbers remain a moving target. School Board member Linda Hall, who voted against the Building Committee’s recommendations, said she would like to see the financial impact on taxpayers by the time the straw poll is taken; Smith said he hopes to have firm figures by then.

Hall said Nov. 18 that she does not oppose the project concept.

“I voted ‘nay’ because I do not agree with all of the additional items, the cost of which, the district will be asking the local taxpayers to pick up,” she explained. “… I would have preferred that the Board had discuss and voted on each additional item separately.”

Board member Jane Scease, who voted against setting the straw poll date, said that although she is “very enthusiastic” about the concept plan, she has a schedule conflict the night of the vote.

The straw poll, which will take place at 6 p.m. at the Mt. Ararat High School Commons, is part of a 21-part, state-mandated process.

Residents of the four towns in SAD 75 – Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham – voted 85-0 in the first show-of-hands straw poll Jan. 21 – the sixth step in the state process – in favor of building the new school on the Eagles Way campus. The project’s Building Committee has since recommended siting the new school on nearby sports fields, then demolishing the existing school and rebuilding the fields at the site of the former school by 2021.

Sports fields at other locations would be used in the interim. Practice fields, intended to be renovated as part of the process, are one potential option.

The Dec. 12 poll will be the 12th step; the March referendum will be the 13th. Should there be inclement weather Dec. 12, an alternate date of Dec. 14 has been set.

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

Kathy Kahill of PDT Architects shows a digital rendering of a future School Administrative District 75 high school at a school board meeting in Topsham Nov. 17. The project could go to referendum in March.

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.