Friday, September 2, 2016

New Windham Middle School proposal gains momentum - By Stephen Signor

In May of this year the Facilities Committee of the RSU14 School Board made the following recommendation: To build a new Windham Middle School, keeping the original core, which contains the gym-upper and lower, cafeteria, food service area, the administrative offices, STEM, art rooms and music rooms/office of the school. The inclusion of a design feature for expansion to accommodate future enrollment needs and the expansion into Fields 4 and 5 will accommodate the construction site. At that time no cost numbers were discussed, but became availableon June 15th at a RSU14 Facilities Committee meeting. To this end, further recommendations were brought forth, revisiting discussions that were placed on hold from July 2014. 

While no decisions have been put into stone, progress has been made in gathering details. On top of the list was the cost sharing of the project. This entails Windham absorbing the $42,496,975 price tag for a new school through a municipal bond. In a preliminary and tentative tax implications scenario, owners of a $250,000 house would incur a $426 a year increase in taxes with this amount decreasing slightly over a period of 20 years. Raymond on the other hand would not incur any construction cost and only be liable for operational costs of the new school. 

To even the playing field, the agenda of this meeting included discussion of the alternative option. This would involve major renovations of the Windham Middle School core. As a renovation, under statutes, the cost of this would be borne by both Raymond and Windham. However the cost for renovations would total $37,739,057. After an intense review between September 2015 and June 2016 it was felt that the difference of $4,757,918, although substantial, represents the difference between renovating a poorly constructed and inadequate school versus building a new one. the session many valid points were made and agreed upon, leaning members toward the new building. For instance, it was presented that “the cycle of a new building is 40 plus years as compared to 20 to 25 of a renovated building.” It was also concluded that “a new building would address 21st Century educational programs that benefit students and community in the long run, while avoiding the inherent risk/cost of renovations”, as one member put it. As another put it, “The Windham Middle School is teaching 21st Century classes in a seventies building environment. Science teachers have no lab, running water or the proper equipment, if any, to conduct experiments.” 

To further examine the issue of new versus renovation was the contents of a letter from Lyndon Keck, PDT Architects review of the WMS condition that was conducted in May of this year. As no stranger with new school construction and renovation Keck’s letter revealed a laundry list of faults with the school. In summary it was reiterated the school was built in 1977 making it 40 years old and at the end of its cycle. Reference was also made that interior walls were made from lumber, not steel with no air space between inner and outer exterior walls to allow for proper insulation. The windows are residential grade as are the roof shingles.
The end result was that after further review, in a board meeting on June 22, the following week, the RSU14 Board of Directors approved the Facilities Committee recommendation to go forward with the proposal. On September 7th there will be a board update with a communication plan to be finalized.
WMS Principal Drew Patin found the decision encouraging. Patin is no stranger to the logistics that now face Windham Middle School. He was involved with a similar situation as assistant principal of Sanford School Department. 

“While at Sanford the concerns, logistics and goals were the same. The only difference was that project was state funded,” Patin explained. asked what his primary goal was Patin replied, “Our goal right now is to inform students and the community as a whole about the importance of how a building can influence the level of education. For instance the science labs in the present school are not equipped with running water making experiments difficult to perform. Students have to excuse themselves to retrieve water from the bathrooms or water fountains.” There are also safety concerns. As Patin put it, “there is no sprinkler system because the code was grandfathered.  

Additionally, there is a matter of the distance students have to go between the main building and Field Allen. The walk may seem short but in the winter months or other seasonal storms the trek can be hazardous. With a new school that concern would be eliminated. On top of that, “currently the school is not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.”

“It is imperative that the proposal being presented reaches the ears of everyone. In order to help facilitate this, a survey is being planned and other means of communication such as a media campaign, face to face conversations, presenting material at polling places, community events and forums, and digital methods such as Twitter, Facebook and mass email. It is challenging to reach out because everyone has their own take on this proposal,” said Patin. “At least we are at a point now which can be considered full steam ahead. It is no longer a case of being one step forward and two steps back.”

On September 21st there will be a meeting held in the Superintendent’s Conference room from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The public is welcome. Patin expressed hope that there will be interested generated by attendants. Until then, more information and updates will become available, as it becomes available.

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