The design concept of the South Portland Middle School project at 120 Wescott Road features two separate wings, one for grades five and six and one for grades seven and eight. Its masonry façade reflects South Portland’s traditional style of building, and its elevated main office area is designed for supervision and security, said Joe Hanning of WRBC Architects Engineers of Portland said. (Courtesy image)

SOUTH PORTLAND — Funding for a new middle school project received unanimous approval from the Maine State Board of Education on July 10.

The new school would serve all South Portland students in grades five through eight and would replace both Mahoney and Memorial middle schools.

It would house 900 students. Today, the two schools (grades six through eight) have a combined 716 students. Mahoney checks in at 310 students, Memorial at 406.

The proposal will go to voters in a Nov. 5 referendum. If approved, the state would pay $59.2 million of the estimated $67.7 million cost of the project. The remaining $8.4 million would be raised locally.

The project would require a $10 million locally issued bond, which would cover the South Portland contribution to the school project, the relocation of central receiving and facilities, and the improvement of the transportation and bus facility on Highland Avenue.

City Finance Director Greg L’Heureux 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, the Portland Press Herald reported.

The city of South Portland has been exploring a secondary school facilities project since 2006. In spring 2015 a Middle School Committee formed.

“In spring 2016, the state finally called us in and approved our project,” Assistant Superintendent Kathy Germani said.

This first approval prompted the committee to begin an exploration of rebuilding the schools, selection of a site, and a concept design.

The new school would be built at the present site of Memorial Middle School on Westcott Road. The existing school would remain operational while the new school is being built, so that no students would have to relocate prior to the opening of the new school.

A memo on the South Portland School Department’s Middle School Project website says that after a thorough review of the entire city, the current Memorial School location emerged as the only viable option for the new school.

Mahoney Middle School, built in 1923, has undersized classrooms, problematic handicap accessibility, and limited potential for reconstruction, Kunin wrote in a description of the project. It sits on 15 acres of land at the corner of Broadway and Ocean Street. The site is not large enough for the proposed new school.

Memorial was built in 1967 and sits on 17 acres of land in the Thornton Heights neighborhood. The building has significant issues with water intrusion.

“Costly changes would be required in order to bring these facilities up to current building code,” Kunin wrote. “Even then, our new versus renovation analysis showed that these rebuilt facilities would not meet educational standards.”

The Thornton Heights site would allow enough space to house a “two-inone” school, with two separate learner community wings: one for grades five and six, and one for grades seven and eight. Each learning community will have its own principal and core teaching staff.

The consolidation of the schools would also provide a solution to an increase in instructional needs in the district.

“We were running out of space in our schools and found that we were using spaces that were not designated spaces for learning,” Germani said.

“We didn’t have the space for pre-K. additionally, our special education needs had increased over the years, with students with greater disabilities needing more space and more services. We also had an increase in our English language learner population. They’ve provided rich diversity for the system, and we’re glad they’re part of our district.”

By consolidating the schools, space would be freed up for South Portland elementary students.

Features of the proposed school include a secure main entry vestibule, a nurse and clinic suite, a library/learning commons, a guidance area, art, health, and world languages departments, a large cafeteria, a large gymnasium with full locker rooms and a fitness room, dedicated band, chorus, and music classrooms, and a large stage and multi-purpose room.

“The multi-purpose room gives the school really good flexibility. You can seat up to 450 in that room for a performance space,” Joe Hanning of WRBC Architects Engineers of Portland, said.

The new school will also include environmentally conscious amenities such as a geothermal heating and cooling system, rain water irrigation system, and solar power.

A June 20 concept straw poll that took place in the South Portland High School was 95-2 in favor of the proposed school design.

With that overwhelming support, the State Board of Education approved the concept for the project.

Next, it will go to a public referendum on Nov. 5. If approved, design development would be completed by April 2020.

Design and funding approval by the State Board of Education would be scheduled for November 2020, and the bid for construction would open in January 2021.

A final funding approval by the Commissioner of Education would happen in spring 2021.

The building’s substantial completion would be scheduled for June 2023, and building occupancy would begin July 2023, with site substantial completion in September 2023.

The Middle School Building Committee’s next meeting is 6 p.m. Aug. 1 in room 221 at South Portland High School.

All committee meetings are open to the public. For more information, contact Germani at [email protected] or 871- 0555.

Evelyn Waugh can be reached at [email protected].

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