An architect’s rendering of what South Portland’s new middle school could look like. Courtesy WBRC Architects-Engineers

SOUTH PORTLAND — There will be two questions on Nov. 5 concerning the proposed middle school project and traffic improvements, set to cost a total of $71.5 million.

One bond package for $69.3 million would fund school construction. The project will receive $59.2 million in state funding, and require $10 million to be raised locally.

“We have known for many, many years that we need to renovate or replace our middle schools and this is our opportunity to do this with the state paying the lion’s share of the cost,” said Superintendent Ken Kunin in an Oct. 9 phone interview. “We think it provides a wonderful, well-designed educational facility for all middle school students in the city while also allowing us to expand pre-kindergarten for students for whom that will be beneficial.”

The second question seeks an additional $2.3 million in local funding for related transportation and pedestrian improvements and will be earmarked for three projects: $1.4 million for a Westbrook Street multi-use path from Westcott Street to Redbank, $625,000 for Broadway corridor pedestrian improvements and $200,000 for traffic signals.

Kunin said that the traffic improvements, while not part of the middle school project, would play an important role in ensuring students arrive safely at school each day.

“Part of getting this approval from the Maine Department of Transportation to move ahead was to have certain off-site traffic improvements to address any issues the new school would raise,” he said. “Our ask for the middle school includes that. The other ballot question would really improve the walkability for all South Portland residents.”

City Manager Scott Morelli said some voters may be in favor of the school, but not the pedestrian improvements, so it was important that the two ballot questions remain separate, although in some ways, he said, they do go hand-in-hand.

“Having them as two questions gives voters more power as to what they want rather than have it be an all-or-nothing vote and risk having the middle school defeated because people didn’t want pedestrian improvements, and vice versa,” he said.

City Finance Director Greg L’Heureaux said the bond debt service is estimated at $14.3 million, to be paid over 20 years, and could add at least 6 cents to the property tax rate.

The new school and traffic improvements were first approved Aug. 13, and passed its second and final reading on Aug. 27.

The new school would replace the city’s two middle schools, Mahoney and Memorial, and be built on the site of Memorial Middle School on Wescott Road. The schools have health and safety issues, asbestos problems, inadequate ventilation and electrical problems.

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.

He said one wing of the building will be for grades 5 and 6, and another wing will house seventh and eighth graders. Each will have its own principal and staff; students will share a cafeteria, gym, multi-purpose room, and library.

Residents first approved the location of the school by a 151-49 vote a year ago and approved the concept design for the middle school in a 95-2 straw poll vote June 2. On July 10, the State Board of Education unanimously approved the concept.

If the bonding is approved, the timeline approved by the state says the final design documents will be completed by April 2020 and the project will go out to bid in December 2020.

Final funding will require approval from the commissioner of the Department of Education in the fall of 2021. Project completion is projected for September 2023.

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