Scarborough voters will be asked whether to support a $160 million bond order for a new K-3 school. Amy Canfield / The Forecaster

If a $160 million school bond is approved in Scarborough, overcrowding and safety issues at schools in the district will finally be addressed, proponents say. If it fails, opponents say, a less-expensive solution could be found and neighborhood primary schools could possibly be saved.

Scarborough residents will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” Nov. 7 on a proposed K-3 consolidated school at The Downs.

Town and school officials say putting off the project not only will make it more expensive down the road, it would be irresponsible given the problems the schools face now because of overcrowding, which has been an issue for years.

The district has 30 portable classrooms: Blue Point and Pleasant Hill each have four, Eight Corners has 10, and the middle school has 12. The school department says roughly 30% of Scarborough students are being taught in the portables. If a consolidated K-3 school is built at The Downs, as proposed, it would replace the three primary schools and free up space at the middle school. The project also calls for improvements, including surrounding site work, at the middle school.

The town estimates that the owner of a home assessed at $400,000 would pay $16,588 over the lifetime of the bond, an average of $488 per year.

Those taxes are too high, opponents say. Other residents, many of those in the Sawyer Road area, don’t like the project because of a proposed easterly access road to the new school as it could disrupt their neighborhood and would require easements from homeowners.


The problem

Scarborough’s three primary schools, serving K-2 students, and the middle school, serving grades 6-8, are stretched to their limits.

At the primary schools, copiers are in hallways because staff rooms now function as conference rooms and places for students to receive extra support. Hallways are sometimes used for extra instruction, too. Closets are at full capacity, creating a game of Tetris to get stacks of supplies in and out.

At the middle school, as many as 22 students fill classrooms designed for 16 to 18, and many teachers share classrooms or wheel their supplies to a number of rooms.

The sixth grade at Scarborough Middle School is taught in portable classrooms. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

The sixth grade is taught in portables and students must walk outside and to the front entrance to get to the gym, cafeteria and nurse’s office, the latter of which only has room for two beds. Teachers make that walk multiple times a day, too.

“A staff member on a cart teaching in the main building; they gather everything and travel over to a classroom in the portables, then they have to set everything up,” said Kathy Tirrell, principal of Scarborough Middle School, who said that can soak up as much as 10 minutes of instruction time.


It is a safety concern, too, said Diane Nadeau, assistant superintendent of Scarborough schools.

“Even with the greatest efforts that staff have tried to ensure student safety, there’s not 100% certainty here,” she said of the sixth graders’ travels between the portables and school.

A cluster of portables at Eight Corners requires the K-2 students there to go outside down a short ramp to and from the main school. School officials say students have gotten locked out before and have had to walk around to the front entrance. A lack of vestibules at the entrances of Pleasant Hill and Eight Corners primary schools is another concern.

“When someone enters (those) schools they have direct access to the building without that added buffer,” said Shannon Lindstrom, chairwoman of the Scarborough Board of Education.

Teachers are limited in what they can do in their classrooms due to overcrowding, such as compromising a preferred layout of desks for a clear path to the door in this classroom in middle school.  Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

That’s a major concern of Maureen Kirsch, an administrative assistant at Eight Corners.

“That keeps me up at night. I’m the keeper of the door,” she said. “We don’t know who’s going to come into our school and our job for 7 ½ hours (a day) is to keep these kids safe.”


The schools have little room, if any, for more portables. Pleasant Hill Primary School would have to do away with its playground to add more. Recess already often extends to the bus loop out front, said Principal Jennifer Humphrey.

“Each year we push this problem down the road, then we have to Band-Aid and come up with other solutions,” she said.

The boiler room at Pleasant Hill Primary School in Scarborough. With the current space restraints, any upgrades would require an addition to the building, the facilities director says. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

Pleasant Hill was built in 1957, Eight Corners in 1959 and Blue Point in 1965. Additions to the three primary schools in 1993 added over 37,000 square feet in total and began adding portables in 2001.

Todd Jepson, director of facilities at Scarborough schools, said the three primary schools’ utilities are outdated, and replacing or upgrading them would be difficult and costly.

“You can’t do it because there’s not enough space,” he said. “You’d have to add on a section to upgrade to a modern mechanical system.”

There are roughly 850 K-3 students in Scarborough this year, but that number is projected to rise to over 950 by 2027 and roughly 1,050 by 2030. The consolidated school, which if passed is scheduled to open in 2027, is designed to fit nearly 1,150 students.


The proposal

Scarborough residents will be asked to approve a $160,323,066 bond for a new K-3 school on a 22-acre plot at The Downs and surrounding infrastructure, as well as renovations and site work at the middle school.

Just over $140 million will go to the new school and $4.1 million to the middle school. The land purchase costs $7.3 million with off-site improvements within The Downs totaling $3 million. Improvements along Sawyer Road would cost $4 million and an easterly access road would cost $1.8 million.

A rendering of the upper entrance of the proposed K-3 Primary School in Scarborough. Contributed / Harriman

The town estimates that the owner of a home assessed at $400,000 would pay an average of $488 per year, or $16,588 over the 30 years of the bond. The town foresees an average increase in property taxes of 3.7% over the first 10 years of bond payments, with the peak coming in 2027 and 2028 where taxes may increase 4.9% and 5.6% respectively, at a minimum. Those estimates include projected increases in general spending and account for upcoming capital spending, such as a potential library expansion. Council Chairman Jon Anderson said it will be critical for the council to keep the tax rate stable to meet those projections.

The two-story, 193,000-square-foot school would have four classroom “neighborhoods” on each floor of the building. Each neighborhood will have some shared classrooms for STEM, art and music. Students would share two gyms and a cafeteria. Community members would have a separate entrance to the gyms, cafeteria and stage, away from the classrooms.

The K-3 school would replace the three primary schools, freeing up Wentworth School, which currently serves grades 3-5, to take on the sixth graders from the middle school. The School Building Committee says the new school and reconfiguration of grades is the most cost-effective option long-term. They estimate keeping all the primary schools open and adding a fourth would cost the town $230 million more over 30 years to construct and operate. They also estimate construction costs for the current proposal will increase by 8% every year they delay.


The impact

While the majority of the community seems to agree that school overcrowding needs to be addressed, those who oppose the proposed K-3 school say the cost is too high or believe there is a better solution than a consolidated school.

SMARTaxes, a group of residents that advocates for reasonable town tax increases, opposes the project. Members Steve Hanly and Susan Hamill told The Forecaster they think the neighborhood primary schools are worth preserving and that options like adding a fourth school and adding on to three primary schools could be less expensive upfront. Even if operation costs are higher over time, Hamill and Hanly said they and other residents would rather preserve the neighborhood schools over one large bond for a consolidated school.

“I don’t think they were really attuned to the public sentiment, both on the cost and also on the neighborhood school issue,” Hanly said.

The School Building Committee and the School Board didn’t receive enough public input on the project, they said.

“Steve and I have been to a lot of the meetings,” Hamill said. “Sometimes we are the only two members of the public at those meetings.”


Councilor Anderson has also noted the lack of residents’ participation in those meetings. It wasn’t until the unified proposal was taking shape that attendance at town meetings relating to the project increased, he said.

The ‘dark cloud’

Some residents oppose the project because of the easterly access road required as part of the land deal between The Downs and the town. Track View Terrace, a private road, is specifically named as a potential entry point from the Sawyer Road area; The Downs has offered a roadway easement to the private way at no cost to the town.

Meghan Condry and Zachary Lambert bought a home on Track View Terrace in 2020 because they liked the neighborhood on the private road. An access road from it to the new school would disrupt the neighborhood, they say. They have been sifting through town ordinances and past meeting minutes trying to find grounds to thwart a road there.

“It feels like a third job,” Condry said. “We are putting our son to bed and watching old meetings and reading through purchase option agreements.”

They routinely attended town meetings about the school project over the summer. “It’s a lot of babysitters,” Lambert said.


The couple also takes issue with how the town approached them and their neighbors. It held a Sawyer Road neighborhood community forum about the school project and the access road last week, but they said the plan should have been discussed with residents long before.

Track View Terrace is being considered as an easterly access road to the proposed school at The Downs, raising concerns among residents. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

“It’s going to be a major effect on our road, and we’ve had to reach out to the town consistently, constantly,” Lambert said. “No one reached out to us.”

“It feels like a dark cloud over us, constantly,” Condry said. “It also feels like it’s happened quickly.”

They said they’ve offered to limit their road to emergency vehicles only to no avail. While the school traffic concerns them, traffic spawning from the rest of The Downs does, too.

“What’s interrupting our neighborhood isn’t just for the school,” Condry said. “It’s for a pretty sizeable road to a new development as well … We’re living on a private dead-end road to raise a family, and we’re about to become the new highway to The Downs.”

Anderson said conversations with residents in the Track View Terrace and Sawyer Road area began in July and the town is conducting deed research. He emphasized that “no entire homes or properties will need to be purchased to create the access road” and that the town is exploring other access road options, too, including another location off Sawyer Road, but a study must be conducted to see if that route would be feasible.

Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 7 at the Scarborough High School Alumni Gym.

This story was updated Oct. 31 to correct the first reference to the average tax impact for a home assessed at $400,000.

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