SOUTH PORTLAND — The latest proposal to replace Mahoney and Memorial middle schools calls for as much as $12.3 million in local funding to get the building upgrades and road improvements sought by school officials and residents during the three-year planning process.

The $71.6 million plan to build a consolidated middle school on the Memorial site on Wescott Road was approved overwhelmingly by residents in a second straw poll in June, and it got the green light for $59.3 million in state funding in July.

Building upgrades that would be funded by local taxpayers include rooftop solar panels that would generate 157 kilowatts of electricity annually, a geothermal heating system, increased classroom space for the district’s highly successful music program, a larger gym and multi-purpose room, and a rain-collection system to irrigate nearby playing fields.

The City Council will discuss borrowing money for the middle school project on Aug. 13 and 27, when members will consider whether to put one or two funding questions on the November ballot.

“If successful, this will be the first state-funded major school construction project in South Portland history,” said Superintendent Ken Kunin.

The city must bond the entire project, and then the state will reimburse its $59.3 million share over time through increases in the district’s annual education subsidy.

If the council puts two funding questions on the ballot, one question would ask voters to approve $69.3 million for the school project, including $10 million in add-ons that were approved by the state as part of the building plan and budget but must be funded at the local level.

The second question would ask voters to approve an additional $2.3 million in local funding for proposed road improvements intended to mitigate pedestrian and traffic concerns near the consolidated middle school.

When school officials pitched the overall funding scheme during a council workshop last month, three councilors said there should be two questions on the ballot, two councilors said it should be one question and two said they had no preference.

In a straw poll held on June 20, residents voted 95-2 in favor of the project developed by a building committee and designed by WBRC Architects-Engineers. In a similar straw poll held in June 2018, residents voted 151-49 in favor of the new middle school’s location.

State funding would cover most of the cost to replace the city’s two aging, inefficient middle schools with a modern, energy-efficient, multi-story building. It would include two elevators and incorporate fifth-graders, freeing up much-needed space in the city’s five elementary schools.

Grades 5-6 and grades 7-8 would be housed in separate wings to address building size and age-related socialization concerns. Fifth- and sixth-graders would start school at least 45 minutes later than seventh- and eighth-graders to reduce traffic congestion, Kunin said.

The $10 million in local funding that’s part of the $69.3 million middle school project includes parking and playground improvements next door at Skillin Elementary School and half the cost of a $1.5 million geothermal heating and cooling system.

The state is kicking in $750,000 toward the geothermal system because that would be the cost of a traditional heating system, Kunin said. The 70-well system would be installed beneath nearby playing fields.

The $10 million also would cover renovation of the the district’s former transportation facility off Highland Avenue, which is being eyeballed as the future location of the district’s central administration, maintenance and receiving offices. All would be displaced in the consolidated middle school.

An additional $2.3 million in local funding would be borrowed to make pedestrian and traffic improvements beyond the $350,000 that the state agreed to pay for close to the building site.

City planning and public works staff have recommended installing a $1.7 million multi-use path along Westbrook Street to safely connect Wescott Road to the Redbank neighborhood on the other side of Interstate 295. They also recommended $875,000 in pedestrian and signal improvements along the Broadway corridor and elsewhere.

The Maine Department of Transportation will host two public forums to further address pedestrian and traffic concerns related to the middle school project on Oct. 10 and Nov. 21 from 6 to 8 p.m. at South Portland High School.

This story was updated at 11 a.m. Aug. 5 to correct the number of kilowatts generated annually.


Comments are not available on this story.