With Mabel I. Wilson elementary school beyond capacity and projections showing a continued hike in enrollment, School Administrative District 51 officials are considering a new primary school in North Yarmouth or Cumberland. File

CUMBERLAND — Facing space constraints at Mabel I. Wilson elementary school, School Administrative District 51 could soon discuss building a new primary school in North Yarmouth or Cumberland.

Built in 1967 and expanded 25 years ago, Wilson school – located at 353 Tuttle Road, on the same campus as Greely High and Middle schools – houses pre-kindergarten to third grade. The 80,358-square-foot structure has the capacity for 600 students but 693 are currently attending, Superintendent Jeff Porter said in an interview Oct. 23.

The architectural firm Oak Point Associates will collaborate with the district’s 18-member Elementary Education Steering Committee on the project. The committee will make a recommendation to the SAD 51 Board of Directors in a 6 p.m. workshop Thursday, Nov. 7, and a public presentation will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 18. Both meetings will be held at Greely High.

Voters in the Cumberland-North Yarmouth district could ultimately decide at a November 2020 referendum whether to build a new school.

The committee reviewed a dozen options, including adding on to existing buildings or building a new school on the campus, but space is not available, Porter said. The panel is recommending the school be built off-campus, and house either pre-K and first grade or pre-K through second grade. The committee’s preference is North Yarmouth, Porter said.

“I think it makes sense in a lot of ways,” he said, since North Yarmouth has not had a school since SAD 51 closed North Yarmouth Memorial School in 2014 and transferred it to the town. And there had been an understanding among community members that if a new school needed to be built, it would be constructed in North Yarmouth, he added.

Two sites in the center of North Yarmouth are on the table: one on the site of the Wescustogo Hall & Community Center, part of which is a pared-down and renovated North Yarmouth Memorial School. The other is Sharp’s Field, next to Town Hall.

Oak Point will review those sites, as well as one in Cumberland: a town-owned tract bordered by Tuttle Road and the Town Forest.

“They just want to cover all their bases … and make sure that there’s not a site we’ve overlooked,” Porter said, noting that “these are the preliminary sites; it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a site that we don’t know about yet.”

SAD 51 does not look to purchase a piece of land, but have one given to the district, he said. All three have been presented by the towns as potential sites, the superintendent added.

Even if the School Board chose one site to propose to voters, “whatever town the site is in has to cede the land to us,” he said. In North Yarmouth, that would be a Town Meeting vote of the people; in Cumberland, a Town Council decision.

A recent projection showed that SAD 51 will have 2,600-2,700 students within seven or eight years, Porter said. As of 2018-19, 1,371 came from Cumberland and 666 from North Yarmouth. Recent Cumberland enrollment was as high as 1,557 in 2009-10 and as low as 1,336 in 2017-18. North Yarmouth enrollment reached 685 in 2008-09, and dipped to 560 in 2010-11.

SAD 51 voters in 2011 approved closing the former Drowne Road School and transferring third grade students to the Wilson School. They voted in 2013 to close the former North Yarmouth Memorial School and relocate its fourth and fifth grade students to an expanded Greely Middle School. Declining enrollment was a major factor in both cases, although levels never fell to the point two major studies predicted 10 years ago, and the past four years have seen “a steady increase,” Porter said in August.

In the years since the Wilson school was built, SAD 51’s educational outreach has broadened with special education services, the greater need for small group and individual instruction, the Response to Intervention program and an expansion of Allied Arts offerings, Porter said.

Kate Perrin, chairwoman of the SAD 51 board, said Oct. 24 that “we have taken things slowly over the past three years and we have made sure to revisit our enrollment trends twice during that time to ensure that the information we have is accurate.”

After the recent enrollment projection, “I am confident that the recent large class sizes are not bubble classes and that student enrollment growth will continue,” she said. “This year alone we had to add two kindergarten classrooms to meet enrollment needs, which signals significant growth.”

A resident of North Yarmouth, Perrin said her job as chairwoman “is to lead the board in thorough and thoughtful discussions about the fair and equitable placement of MSAD assets and to find the smartest and most responsible plan for fixing our space challenges.”

“I do think there are a lot of people who would be excited to once again have an MSAD asset in North Yarmouth,” she said, “and I certainly appreciate that sentiment.”

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