Construction of the new Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham is largely complete; demolition of its 1973 predecessor could occur this month. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

TOPSHAM — Five years ago when School Administrative District 75 embarked on a state-mandated 21-step process to build a new Mt. Ararat High School, the road ahead felt understandably long and arduous for then-Superintendent Brad Smith.

“I remember that big chart … 21 steps, with 20 being start (of) construction,” he recalled.

But with only final touches like finish coating on the gym floor remaining on the 153,000-square-foot structure, SAD 75 is wrapping up the critical penultimate step. All that remains is the 21st – a final project audit by the Maine Department of Education, which is funding most of the project. The $60.7 million endeavor, approved 1,773 to 392 by district voters in March 2017, includes $6.2 million for locally funded items that the state will not cover.

The 153,000-square-foot building is designed for 750 students, with 40 classrooms, nine science rooms and a 17,000-square-foot gym. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

Although faculty has already been moving in, whether the school actually opens for classes this fall remains unknown. The SAD 75 Board of Directors is due Thursday, July 23, to discuss various options, which could include a complete return to school, complete remote learning, or something in between, according to Superintendent Shawn Chabot. A plan could be established next month.

“We expect, unfortunately, that we might have to pivot between the different scenarios, depending on the situation with the virus,” Chabot said.

Slightly smaller than the 1973 Mt. Ararat High, the new building is designed for 750 students, with 40 classrooms, nine science rooms and a 17,000-square-foot gym. It replaces an open-plan school that largely lacks interior doors and walls.

“It really has come together,” said Smith, who, since retirement in 2018, has driven by the construction site a few times. “… To go from the building with the inherent problems that Mt. Ararat has, to a new school with so many opportunities, is exciting. It is very rewarding and personally very fulfilling to be able to look at something like that, and know that I had a part in working with the community to pull that together.”

The new facility sits down Eagles Way from its predecessor, on a former athletic field. The project – which Building Committee Chairman John Hodge said is 85% complete – includes a $650,000 synthetic turf athletic field where the high school now stands. The structure is due to be demolished later this month, when the foundation will be removed; field construction will begin this fall and the field is due to be complete next spring or summer, with a fall 2021 opening.

The project has remained on time and on schedule, Hodge said.

The school project won’t be entirely complete until the primary contractor, Arthur C. Dudley of Standish, has gone through a “punch list” of any remaining items. “We have not issued a letter of substantial completion as of yet; we are waiting for the contractor to get through that punch list,” Hodge said.

Having the school complete, but not able to open to students, would be disappointing, Smith said; he’d hoped to be in the new school’s lobby on opening day, to “hear the oohs and aahs, that first sight of the inside,” he said.

But the school has been built to last 50 years, he said, and “in the long run, they’re still going to have a great building – a great facility that the community can be really proud of.”

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