SOUTH PORTLAND — A plan to build a consolidated middle school next to Memorial Middle School requires a zoning change to allow construction of a four-story building in a residential neighborhood.

The School Department is seeking a conditional school zone for the 17-acre property at 120 Wescott Road. The zone would allow some portions of the proposed school to be as much as 60 feet tall, exceeding the 35-foot building height limit in the surrounding Thornton Heights neighborhood.

The $50 million school, intended to replace both Memorial and Mahoney middle schools, is being designed to make the most of the site’s sloping topography and create a compact footprint that preserves playing fields and other open space.

Divided into three wings and set into a hillside, the state-funded project would range from one to four stories. Shorter hallways would help the building feel smaller and lower the cost of mechanical systems, including geothermal heating and cooling, solar power and other amenities geared toward environmental sustainability.

“Keeping the building design tighter on the site has some real efficiencies,” said Mike Johanning, a principal architect with WBRC Architects-Engineers, the firm working on the project.

The City Council will hear the zoning proposal during a workshop Tuesday evening and vote on it after the Planning Board reviews the request next month and provides a recommendation.

School officials anticipate hosting a few community meetings in January before holding a straw vote on the design concept in February. A citywide referendum on the project would be held in June.

“This would allow us to keep the project on target for a September 2022 opening and permit us to go out to bid (for contractors) at a more favorable time of the year,” Superintendent Ken Kunin said in a memo to the council.

The proposed school would be built behind Memorial so “we can maintain school operations during construction,” Kunin said. Memorial would then be torn down to make way for parking, driveways and other features of the consolidated school. City officials have yet to determine what will be done with Mahoney, located near Mill Creek Park at Broadway and Ocean Street.

In a straw poll held last June, residents voted 151-49 in favor of the Wescott Road site. Both Mahoney and Memorial have significant structural, health, safety and handicapped-access deficiencies, along with asbestos throughout and inadequate heating, ventilation, plumbing, electrical and communication systems.

State funding was available to renovate Mahoney, build a new school for Mahoney students on a different site, or build one school for all South Portland middle school students. The state wouldn’t fund construction of a new Memorial, which would cost city taxpayers an estimated $30 million, plus additional costs to address other building issues throughout the district.

The consolidated middle school would accommodate grades 5 through 8, incorporating fifth-graders from the city’s five elementary schools. As a result, Kunin said, the middle school project would allow the district to expand its pre-kindergarten program in the elementary schools and address other building needs “with the least possible impact on local taxpayers.”

The consolidated school would have one main entrance with two classroom wings – for grades 5-6 and grades 7-8 – creating the sense of two schools within one building, Johanning said. The students would share a gym and auditorium in the third wing.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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