Windham Middle School could be replaced as early 2026, according to Windham-Raymond Superintendent Chris Howell, and could include students from Raymond as well.

The project, which the state has ranked as the fifth-highest priority out of 74 school projects being considered statewide, qualifies for between $50 million and $75 million in state funding, Howell said. RSU 14 will now analyze the school’s needs and begin to look for locations. The Portland architectural firm Lavallee Brensinger, chosen by the district in late June, will help complete the analysis, which “should be fairly quick.”

Based on the assessment, the Maine Department of Education will decide how much money will be allocated by the state, Howell said. Residents would pay for any extras the town decides to add, such as an auditorium or swimming pool, for example.

A vote by residents to approve state and any local funding for the new building will likely happen within two years, he said.

“We’re looking at the possibility of June 2023,” he said.

The existing 44-year-old middle school on the Gray Road campus serves grades 6-8. Built to house 483 students, it now has 636, Howell said. Because of the overcrowding, the sixth-grade class of 220 students meets in the separate Field Allen building on the campus. In addition, classrooms in the middle school are undersized and the design doesn’t reflect current teaching methods, he said.

“We’ve had a great run with that building, but at this point, it makes sense to build something that meets programming needs and has everyone under the same roof,” he said.

The school, which was built in the 1970s, was constructed using a model for junior high schools that included separate wings for each subject. In contrast, modern middle school teaching methods use the team model, described as a “smaller learning community in a larger school,” Howell said.

The district is also exploring with the state the possibility of having the new middle school serve grades 5-8, which Howell said would free up space in other buildings now occupied by fifth-graders so universal pre-K could be accommodated.

The state, meanwhile, is exploring the idea of allowing students who live in Raymond, which has its own middle school, to attend the new school. Although the application for the project was focused on serving Windham only, the state would like to make sure that Raymond, as a part of RSU 14, is considered before moving forward, Howell said.

Last November, Raymond residents voted by a 2 to 1 margin in favor of remaining a part of the school district after an initiative to withdraw.

Raymond Select Board Chairperson Teresa Sadak, a leader in the withdrawal effort, said she is going to take that voter decision into consideration when the five-member board votes to recommend to the school board whether Raymond should be a part of the new middle school.

“I think this is a great opportunity for Raymond,” said Sadak, who hopes that the district would consider new building sites that are closer to her town.

The Raymond Select Board will hold two public forums on sending the town’s students to the new school at 6 p.m. Oct. 4 and Oct. 5 at Jordan Small Middle School. The select board will take comments at the meeting and by email before voting Oct. 12 on whether the town should take part in the project, Sadak said. 

RSU 14 board member Mike McClellan of Raymond said the school board and the district will wait to hear from the public before taking a stance on the town joining the project, but added that if Raymond declines the offer, the town should not expect to have another opportunity like this in the future.

Being a part of the regional school unit has offered Raymond some benefits the town wouldn’t have been able to afford on its own, McClellan said, such as having an athletic director.

Concerns brought up at the most recent Raymond Select Board meeting, Sept. 14, focused on Jordan Small struggling to offer comparable programs and opportunities in comparison to a new Windham Middle School.

“I’d assume you’d have to do something major (to Jordan Small) to make it competitive educationally to this new middle school,” Raymond Town Manager Don Willard said at the meeting. “I don’t see how that could happen.”

Howell said at the meeting that renovations to Jordan Small approved two years ago are scheduled to begin next year. If Raymond decides to take part in the new middle school project, “we would have to take a look at whether or not it’d be worth putting money into that building,” Howell said.

Comments are not available on this story.