Subcontractors from Maine Masonry lay bricks on the exterior of the new Morse High School in Bath. (Photo courtesy of Cuyler Feagles)

BATH — Despite the discovery of unexpected clay deposits when digging for a bridge connecting Congress Street to the new Morse High School, the construction of the new school is still on schedule and on budget.

“Southern Maine is famous for having clay deposits … but nobody expected to find it right there,” said Cuyler Feagles, clerk of the works for Regional School Unit 1.

Feagles said it cost about $600,000 to excavate the clay and replace it with new soil, but the unexpected cost was within the project’s contingency budget, meaning the project, as a whole, is still on budget.

“A $600,000 change order is a lot of money … but if you have to spend it, you spend it,” said Feagles.

The project is expected to be completed in December 2020. Morse students will begin the 2020-21 school year in the existing Morse High School building, then move to the new building after Christmas break.

Feagles said the new school’s roof is 99 percent complete, and the concrete slabs have been poured. Interior walls are being installed and once those are in place electrical and plumbing elements can be added.

Subcontractors are also laying bricks on the building’s exterior, which can only happen within a certain temperature range to allow the cement to harden, according to Feagles. Because of this, a tent is laid over the building and warm air is pumped under the tent.

Once complete, the new school at the Wing Farm Business Park will stand three stories tall and cover nearly 186,000 square feet, slightly larger than the current Morse High School building on High Street. The school will have two gyms, two athletic fields and a revamped theater.

The state is funding $67.4 million of the $75.3 million price tag; $7.2 million is to be paid locally through borrowing, with $700,000 earmarked from fundraising.

The city hired Harriman Architects to conduct a reuse study for the current Morse High School building.

“They’re underway with the first phase of that project, which means reviewing the details and visiting the site so they can see what the current conditions are,” said Marc Meyers, Bath’s assistant city manager. “We anticipate the study will take about six months.”

Bath held a public meeting in June to hear residents’ ideas on what they should do with the nearly century-old building. While ideas offered were diverse, popular themes centered around turning the building into a mixed-use space, meaning it would serve as commercial and residential space while preserving elements of the original structure such as the facade and the theater.

Meyers said the city expects to hold a public meeting in late winter or early spring to discuss reuse concepts and gather feedback from the community.

“From the city’s perspective, we want to stay ahead of the game,” said Meyers. “I don’t think anyone wants the high school to stay vacant for a long time.”

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