South Portland residents vote at the Community Center on Nelson Road on Nov. 5. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND — Two ballot questions concerning a new middle school and traffic improvements, set to cost a total of $71.5 million, were overwhelmingly approved at the Nov. 5 referendum.

The new school will 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.

“We are thrilled that the South Portland Middle School Project has received overwhelming approval from the voters … 77% voted yes with every district in strong support,” Superintendent Ken Kunin said in an email Nov. 6. “Over the past decade so many community members, parents and staff have dedicated themselves to bring this opportunity to South Portland — a once-in-a-generation chance to positively impact the education of all of our students.”

One bond package for $69.3 million, approved 3,234-962, will fund school construction. The project will receive $59.2 million in state funding, with $10 million to be raised locally.

The second question, approved 3,216-795, OKed $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.

The timeline approved by the state says the final design for the new school 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 next fall. Project completion is projected for September 2023.

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. 

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.

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

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.

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