Recently there have been more conversations about growth in Scarborough and what it could mean for the future of our Town. This conversation is important but difficult because it involves many of our personal values about the town we love and how we envision it developing into the future. The time has come to include the schools in this discussion of growth. Population growth and changes to programming have impacted our schools, and when combined with aging facilities, we can no longer support our student enrollment in our existing space, particularly at the primary levels of kindergarten through second grade.

The purpose of this article is to alert you to the space and facility issues we have in our schools, to update you on what has happened and what is being done, and to include you in the planning for a solution. The following are key dates and actions taken by the Board to prepare for this growth. In 2013, the Board of Education commissioned a Facilities Master Plan with an architectural firm. In 2017, that Facilities Master Plan was presented to the Board. After the presentation of the Facilities Master Plan, the Board applied to the Department of Education to fund renovation projects at our existing schools. In August of 2018, the Department of Education released the priority list of schools that qualified for school renovation funds. On the list of 74 schools reviewed, Scarborough ranked as #34 for Eight Corners, #36 for Pleasant Hill, and #49 for Blue Point. In January of 2019, the Board of Education reconvened the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee to initiate a plan for action based on the knowledge that the schools would not qualify for state funding.

Since then, the Board of Education formed a Building Steering Committee to advise and make recommendations to the Board addressing the overcrowding and inadequate space at the primary schools. This committee is comprised of six community members, school administrators, one teacher, and two Board members. The first question the committee had to answer was, “What, if anything, will be built?” The committee looked carefully at the current enrollment and capacity at the primary schools, the updated projected enrollment study, and research regarding factors for student success.

Our primary schools have already reached maximum capacity. Temporary (portable) classrooms have been purchased to meet the demand for instructional space, but this solution is not sustainable due to limited ground space, its inability to address needs in common areas, and continued capital investment in temporary buildings. The most recent portable addition cost the Town approximately $277,000.

The enrollment study, which has been remarkably accurate in its projections, predicts increasing student enrollment over the next 10 years. The data indicates that by 2025, 45 percent of our K-2 students will be in classrooms that do not exist today. Portable classrooms, while providing a quick fix, have a short useful life (10-15 years) and are not a permanent solution to this problem. Portables provide second-tier classroom space, do nothing to alleviate the overcrowding in the primary school common spaces (shared gym/cafeteria, art, library etc.), and do little to address the facility requirements for our Special Education programming. It is clear that something must be done to address the physical space constraints in order to appropriately meet the needs of our students.

Realizing that portables will not solve our long-term problem, the Building Steering Committee evaluated the two remaining options available: renovate and expand the three existing primary schools, or build one centralized primary school. The Facilities Master Plan contains data on district programming, space allocation, and land use. The report identified significant land constraints at the three primary school sites, which would limit building additions. Renovation and expansion would require two-story buildings and significantly reduce playground space and parking availability. This approach would not adequately address bus and parent traffic patterns, or facility safety and security concerns. The committee also considered the operational inefficiencies of running three separate buildings.

After carefully weighing the information, the committee voted to recommend that a consolidated primary school is the best solution to address the increased enrollment, aging facilities, and the inadequate space in our primary schools. The committee presented this recommendation to the Board of Education on Dec. 5, because it is the option that fully responds to our enrollment increases and provides flexibility for future growth. This solution provides appropriate and effective indoor and outdoor space for all programming needs while improving operational and maintenance efficiencies. Lastly, the committee advised the Board that a consolidated school would be the most successful option to address safety and security concerns.

The Scarborough Board of Education will hold a public hearing on the committee’s recommendation on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall before taking a final vote on Jan. 2. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the Board at [email protected] with questions or concerns if you are unable to attend the public hearing.

Editor’s note: The time for the Dec. 19 meeting had been listed as 6 p.m. The correct time is 7 p.m. as it appears in the story.

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