FREEPORT — Planners have proposed a nearly $17 million renovation and addition to Freeport High School to accommodate growing enrollment. If approved by the Regional School Unit 5 board later this month, the plan will go to voters in Freeport, Pownal and Durham in June.

The plan calls for a broad reorganization of the school and its campus, including new athletic fields and classroom spaces. It would be the first major school improvement since RSU 5 was formed four years ago.

“At nearly $17 million, this project represents a significant financial commitment,” said Kim LaMarre, chair of the committee that helped shape the recommendations. “Quality academics and athletics are both essential to the overall high school experience.”

The last spending proposal for RSU 5 went to voters in June 2011, when a $2.9 million plan for a running track and turf field failed.

Freeport is one three Maine high schools among 33 of its size without a track.

Superintendent Shannon Welsh said residents rejected that proposal because it did not address overcrowding and outdated facilities. She said residents preferred a broader approach.

“That’s when the board directed us to craft a master plan with an architect,” Welsh said Thursday. “People had concerns about the entire facility.”

The school now has two classrooms for alternative education programs in a temporary double-wide trailer.

Welsh projects enrollment to go from about 540 this year to 688 in a decade. With the renovations and addition, the school could comfortably accommodate 650 students, with room for growth, she said.

While enrollment in many Maine school districts was nearly flat at the start of this school year, 3 percent more students – about 60 – enrolled in Freeport, many at the high school, she said.

The most dramatic part of the building project calls for a 31,000-square-foot, two-story addition with nine new classrooms, administration and technology offices, a food court and kitchen, and expanded music facilities.

School board members appear receptive to the plan and will vote Jan. 23 whether to send it to referendum.

If voters in Freeport, Pownal and Durham approve the spending, construction could begin in 2014 and be completed by 2016, according to early plans.

The school campus and its flow of people and vehicles would also get an update. Buses would have a new drop-off area, and visitor parking would double to 20 spaces. A rear parking lot would be paved, and lights and sidewalks would be added.

The district’s three towns would share the cost of the project in the same proportions they share all education costs.

Using conservative interest estimates, annual payments for a 20-year bond would cost Freeport residents about $1 million a year, Durham residents about $300,000 and Pownal residents about $200,000.

The exact property-tax impact will be determined only if voters choose to go forward, Welsh said.

The high school’s oldest section dates to 1961. While it’s still structurally sound, the classrooms need technological, safety and access upgrades, said Lyndon Keck, an educational facilities specialist with PDT Architects in Portland, the firm that completed the initial designs.

“We’re not rebuilding all the walls, we’re not gutting the facility,” Keck said. “There are a lot of portions of the building we’re not doing anything to.”

Some big changes would convert the library into a science, technology, engineering and mathematics laboratory, and move the cafeteria to the new addition.

The front entrance would be reshaped to accommodate expanded administrative offices and provide a safer, more prominent and central point of access for students and the public.

The project is the result of a master-planning effort that began in 2011 to examine shortfalls and opportunities for improvement at the school, and included a committee of parents, students, community members and educators.

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:
mbyrne@pressherald.com