An architect’s rendering of the concept design for the proposed $50 million South Portland Middle School, which residents overwhelmingly approved in a straw poll June 20. Courtesy WBRC Architects-Engineers

SOUTH PORTLAND  Residents overwhelmingly approved the concept design for a new $69 million middle school in a straw poll June 20, which qualifies the project for state funding. 

The building would replace the city’s two middle schools, Mahoney and Memorial, and be built on the site of the Memorial Middle School on Wescott Road. Of the $69 million, $59.6 million will be paid by the state, with the balance funded by borrowing. 

The vote was 95-2.

The interior design, developed by a building committee and WBRC Architects-Engineers of Portland, aims to foster an environment of collaborative learning and a deeper sense of community. 

Superintendent Ken Kunin said there are a variety of unique features associated with the new school, including a geothermal heating and cooling system, solar panels on the roof and windows, and a community room where students can gather. 

“That heating system will be paid 50 percent by the state and 50 percent by local funds to give us year-round use of the building, with heating coming from geothermal wells build underneath the property,” Kunin said. “We want to show kids the importance of solar energy, the importance of community and give them lots of green space to play.” 

He said one wing of the building will be for grades 5 and 6, and will have its own principal and staff. Another wing will be for seventh and eighth graders, who will also have their own principal and staff. Students will share a cafeteria, gym, multi-purpose room, and library. 

“The goal is to make the school feel as small as possible. We tried to build up rather than out, because with 800-900 students, it’s important students don’t feel anonymous,” Kunin said. “Being known and having strong relationships is very important and the new design fosters that sense of community.” 

First floor building concept design plans for the proposed South Portland middle school. Contributed

Start times would be staggered by 45 minutes, with grades 7 and 8 starting earlier and finishing earlier than their younger classmates. 

The design takes advantage of the natural slope of the site. The wing for grades 7 and 8 will be four stories high, while the wing for grades 5 and 6 will be three stories.  

Residents first approved the location of the school by a 151-49 vote a year ago. A referendum on the project is set for Nov. 5. If it passes, final design documents would be completed by April 2020, with construction documents to be finalized by October 2020. 

“After all that, we can go back to the Board of Education for design and funding approval by the state board,” Kunin said. “If that passes, it would go out to bid and we could start building after finalized approval. Completion would be July 2023.” 

Kunin noted in a project concept summary that both aging schools have health and safety issues, as well as asbestos problems, inadequate ventilation and electrical problems. 

City Finance Director Greg L’Heureaux said the bond debt service is estimated at $14.3 million, to be paid over 20 years, and will add at least 4 cents to the property tax rate.

But he noted there are many variables to take into consideration that may change the expenses in the future, such as street improvements and other school construction expenses.