Westbrook school officials, hoping to get a significant school expansion project on the November ballot, are hosting two meetings next week to inform both city officials and the public on where the proposal stands.

With many of the city’s schools considered at or over capacity, and with the city experiencing a development boom, the Westbrook School Department has been studying expansion to the aging Saccarappa Elementary School and the completion of a third-floor wing of classrooms at Westbrook Middle School.

First, a joint meeting on Monday, May 23, between the School Department and City Council will be held to give city officials an update on the project. It starts at 6:30 p.m. in Room 114 of Westbrook High School. Part of the discussion of the Saccarappa school will revolve around an adjacent 4-acre, city-owned parcel that will be used as part of the expansion.

Then, on Wednesday, May 25, a public forum hosted by school officials will be held at 6 p.m. at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center to solicit feedback from the public and parents.

Superintendent of Schools Marc Gousse said this week that with the school year almost over, a lot of work still needs to be done on the expansion proposal.

“The timeline certainly has to be expedited to meet the fall goal,” he said Wednesday.

Dan Cecil, an architect working on the project from Harriman Associates, presented his newest plans to the School Committee during a workshop May 11. At Saccarappa, which is receiving the majority of the upgrades, the plans call for 12 new classrooms, a gym, cafeteria, kitchen, stage and expanded parking and bus loop.

The new land parcel will allow the project to add the parking, as well as an expanded field area.

The school was built in 1953 and had small additions in 1963 and 1989. However, in recent years, school principal Brian Mazjanis and his staff have had to come up with innovative ways of making the space work. The school’s “cafegymitorium” shared space is still too small for all students to eat lunch at one time.

While the cost of the project will be bonded and fall on local taxpayers, Gousse has said the project should set the department up for the next two decades.

Asked if there were any cost estimates yet, Gousse said, “We’re not at that place yet, but hope to be there soon.”

Prior rough estimates given by Cecil last year were in the $10 million ballpark.

During school expansion planning, discussion has focused on various housing development projects in Westbrook, especially at the Blue Spruce Farm subdivision off Spring Street, a mix of single-family homes and apartment units. Elementary school-aged children living there would most likely attend Saccarappa.

The developers, Risbara Bros. Construction, recently announced changes in its plans, replacing a condo project with more one- and two-bedroom apartments. The company is also under contract to purchase 50 additional acres behind the current project.

But, according to a study conducted by Portland-based firm Planning Decisions for Risbara, the Blue Spruce project is only projected to produce between 26-44 students, citing the fact that half of the apartment units are one-bedroom.

Jim Violette, chairman of the Westbrook School Committee, believes these estimates are low.

According to Cecil, city officials asked the school department to commission Planning Decisions to do its own student population projections. However, during last week’s workshop, Violette asked Cecil to relook at hiring Planning Decisions based on its recent study for Risbara.

“I have a concern that there’s a conflict here, and numbers came in that I totally disagree with,” he said during the meeting.

He said he believes the projection should be closer to 90-100 students.

Gousse said this week that Cecil is exploring using another company to get “independent confirmation” of potential numbers. However, the school department will have to act quickly if the study is to be completed in time for a decision.

“So far, I’ve only heard from parents who want to see a project advance, and who are concerned for the potential growth and impact,” Gousse said Wednesday.

The middle school project will construct six additional classrooms, or an additional 7,100 square feet.

Cecil said a population study would allow the team to decide how many classrooms to include at Saccarappa, whether it should be 10, 12 or 14, based on future projections.

If approved in November, the project would be bonded for 20 years. Violette said the last thing the board wants is to return to the taxpayer for an additional project during that time or be forced to add portable classrooms.

A building committee existing of city and school officials, employees and residents also meets monthly to discuss the project. A Planning Board public workshop to discuss the project is tentatively scheduled for June 7.

The final approval from the School Committee and City Council would have to be complete in August, in order to get the final budget and ballot language to the city clerk in September. The presidential election and state and local referendum is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

 

A sketch plan from architect Harriman Associates shows the existing Saccarappa Elementary school building in orange, with the proposed expansion – with 12 classrooms – in blue.

A photo captured by drone in February shows the Saccarappa Elementary School site on Huntress Avenue in Westbrook. The school is the focal point of a proposed school expansion project that will most likely face voters this fall.


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