Sue Helms, former principal at Blue Point school, tells the the School Board at a Dec. 19 public hearing that she feels a consolidated elementary school is not “a good solution” for Scarborough. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

SCARBOROUGH — Residents agree something needs to be done to prepare for a projected increase in enrollment at the town’s three primary schools – Blue Point, Eight Corners and Pleasant Hill –  but disagree on how to do that.

On Jan. 2, the Board of Education is expected to act on a recommendation by the building steering committee to build a new consolidated primary school in lieu of rehabilitating current facilities. Andrew Bradley, chairman of the steering committee, said the schools, which are more than 50 years old, are expensive to operate, offer classroom space that doesn’t meet Maine Department of Education standards and have safety and security concerns.

By 2025, total school enrollment in Scarborough is expected to climb to 3,121 students, including more than 300 K-2 students, according to a 2017 facilities report. The enrollment, as of October, was 2,999 students.

A new school, he said, would be able to address those issues and accommodate expected growth in student enrollment in the coming years at the K-2 level and prevent students from having to learn in modular classrooms, which 45% of students in Scarborough will be doing by 2025 if nothing is done to solve K-2 overcrowding.

Sue Helms, a former principal at Blue Point Primary School, said at a Dec. 19 public hearing that she understands the need, but feels a consolidated school is not “a good solution.”

“In my heart, in my gut and in my experience, that building is too big for 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds,” she said.

Carolyn Freeman, of Thomas Drive, said going to a larger school wouldn’t work for her son, who would lose the small-school feel he has at his current school.

Bradley said the school could be designed in a way to “make a large footprint work in a way that doesn’t lose its sense of community,” similar to the way Scarborough Middle School and Wentworth School were laid out.

Jennie Moskowitz, of Orchard Street, was originally against the consolidated proposal, but after thinking about it, now loves “the idea of a big school and making it comfortable and feel small.”

Helms said instead of a consolidated school, she would rather see the town build a smaller fourth primary school to meet the anticipated enrollment growth at that level. Others, including Tim Lambert, of Iris Drive, and Lorraine Defreitas, of Mulberry Lane, also want the idea of building a fourth primary school examined further.

Scarborough Public Schools Director of Buildings, Grounds and Maintenance Todd Jepson, a member of the building steering committee, said building a fourth primary school “conceptually could work,” but it would create “an equity” because one primary school would be new and the other three would be 50-to-60-year-old schools that would still need significant work to “at least be comparable” to the new school.

Megan Fallon, of Sequoia Lane, said she definitely sees a need for improvements at the primary school level and trusts “the committee has done its due diligence in looking into the best option.”

Jennifer Ladd, a member of the town’s Planning Board and transportation committee, said her concern is there has been no mention of what building a new consolidated school would mean in terms of traffic impact or transportation logistics and cost.

If a new school is built near Oak Hill, one of the potential locations, she said it would strain the intersection there in “a serious way.” The neighborhood schools now, she said, divert school traffic away from this congested intersection.

“I feel so strongly that our neighborhood schools are such an important part of our neighborhoods,” she said.

Hillory Durgin, a member of both the School Board and building steering committee, said specifics about transportation haven’t been part of the conversation because a site has not been selected yet. When it is, a subcommittee to focus on traffic and transportation would be formed.

“It is something that will have to be addressed on its own and looked at very carefully,” she said.

If the committee gets the go-ahead from the board, Bradley said the question of whether to build a new school could be coming to voters in the form of a referendum as soon as November 2020, which means over the next few months, the committee would work to flesh out the design, cost estimate and which grade levels the new school would serve.

Paul Johnson, chairman of the Town Council, said the new school, if approved by voters, would be one of the many large projects in the pipeline for the town. Scarborough Public Library is working to place a referendum question on the November ballot for a library expansion project and a vote about a community center at the Downs project could be coming to voters as soon as March or June.

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