Yarmouth school expansion downgraded

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YARMOUTH — Due to rising costs for construction, the School Facilities Committee has scaled back the scope of planned improvements to district schools.

The original proposal was to expand and renovate all four schools. However, on June 18, plans for William H. Rowe School and Harrison Middle School were downsized in order to prioritize the elementary and high schools, while keeping estimates below $40 million. 

Rowe and HMS may still undergo renovations, but they’ll be minimal, such as minor bathroom improvements at Rowe and exterior work at HMS to bring egresses up to code.

According to a memo from Superintendent Andrew Dolloff, the change came after the committee received “very disappointing” news. 

“Due to growth in the southern Maine market, an unstable labor force, a lack of qualified bidders on construction projects, and rising materials costs across the country, the proposed project is no longer close to the $35 million target that had been identified earlier in the year,” Dolloff said.

According to Dolloff, Rowe’s greatest needs come from the likelihood of adding pre-K or Child Development Services to Rowe within the next few years.

“Because those needs are not present at the moment, the committee was able to put the construction needs at Rowe School farther down on the list of priorities,” Dolloff said. “The middle school will experience some relief from overcrowding by moving grade 5 to (Yarmouth Elementary School), but it is most certain that some classes will still be taught by teachers moving from room to room, in portables, or in hallways.”

A portable classroom will be added to Rowe for the next school year while school renovation plans are finalized for a voter referendum in November. 

As plans stand, YES would receive upgrades to all systems, including electrical, plumbing, the building envelope and interior surfaces, while a large expansion would provide for the additional classrooms and core spaces necessary for a larger student body.

According to the school department’s website, YES is the oldest building in the district at more than 60 years. Though it is in “good shape structurally,” a major renovation of the existing building will provide the upgrades needed to “keep the school viable for decades to come.”

The capacity of the expanded school will be 689, with a projected enrollment in 2027 of 612. Fifth grade will be moved from HMS to YES in order to avoid a similar expansion at HMS. 

At Yarmouth High School, the plan is to relocate the main entrance, move the fitness center, expand the cafeteria and performing arts area and add two classrooms to the northeast side of the building. 

The capacity of the expanded school will be 654, very close to the projected 2027 enrollment of 653.

The estimated cost of the projects stands at $39.5 million, according to the department’s website. This does not include work to be done in future years at HMS or Rowe. Those numbers change daily, but the committee is “confident that the estimate is within a percentage point or two of where we will be for a November referendum.”

Rowe and HMS will likely require expansions within three to five years at an estimated cost of $10 million, following the completion of YES and YHS.

Public forums were held on June 19 and 20 to discuss the updated plans, which Dolloff on June 22 said led to no changes.

“The committee is still working to determine the best approach,” Dolloff added.

According to the website, additional public forums will be planned in September, prior to the November referendum. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.