TOPSHAM — Based on feedback at recent community forums, and a vote this month by a building committee, a new Mt. Ararat High School may be built on the existing campus.

Voters may decide in November 2016 whether to build a new school, or renovate the existing 1973 structure.

The “new vs. reno” analysis is the fifth stage of a 21-step, state-required process that will include two public straw votes, according to School Administrative District 75‘s website. The first vote, and next step of the process, will be on the project location. The second straw vote, which will decide the building concept, is the 12th step.

Positive results from both votes will trigger a referendum on whether to fund the project. Four approvals by the state Board of Education are also required along the way.

SAD 75 has applied for state school construction funding since 1999, and the school ranked seventh in 2014 on a state construction funding list. The existing two-story building was constructed with an “open concept,” and has been described as a “school with no walls.”

A recent draft facilities study by Portland-based architectural firm PDT – hired by SAD 75 to work on the project – concluded that the high school should be rebuilt at the current site. The study determined the cost to renovate the school would exceed the cost of rebuilding.

The project’s Building Committee agreed, unanimously supporting the recommendation Oct. 7. Input the district received in a series of forums last month leaned that way, too.

“I would categorize the input from the public to be very helpful and meaningful,” SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith said in an email Oct. 12. “We have heard generally a disposition toward building new, and remaining on this campus. Of those who spoke, there seems to be a strong sentiment to avoid temporarily housing students in portables or various locations if at all possible. This aspect has probably surfaced as the most common item being mentioned.”

The district continues to look into restrictions on the current site in hopes of attaining greater flexibility in placing a new school, Smith added.

“We are confident, however, that the project can be built on our current campus,” Smith said. “That is a significant decision, as it avoids the search for new property, the cost of such property, and many tests required of any such site to determine suitability for construction.”

The Building Committee has also received an Educational Specifications document, spearheaded by Mt. Ararat High School Principal Donna Brunette.

“It is a thorough document, reflecting input received from various stakeholders,” Smith said, adding that Brunette and others involved with the project “did a wonderful job articulating the response to the questions provided by the state.”

Both that document and the recommendation to build a new school will be reviewed by the Maine Department of Education, the superintendent added. The full School Board may take action on the recommendation next month.

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

Brad Smith, superintendent of School Administrative District 75, addresses a public forum last month on the Mt. Ararat High School rebuilding/renovation project.

filed under: