Friday, July 15, 2022

Windham Middle School potential construction sites narrow

A site at 61 Windham Center Road will be surveyed by SW
Cole engineers as a potential location for construction of the
new Windham Middle School. The school is expected to be
built and completed by the start of the 2026 school year.
By Ed Pierce 

An intensive geotechnical survey of a proposed site at 61 Windham Center Road conducted by SW Cole Engineering will begin in the next few weeks and it will determine if the location is suitable for construction of the new Windham Middle School.

The RSU 14 WMS Building Committee awarded the contract for the survey to SW Cole and because the survey is so in-depth and costly, committee members narrowed the field of potential sites for the new school to this one at 61 Windham Center Road.

RSU 14 Superintendent of Schools Christopher Howell said that the SW Cole engineers plan to be on site soon to begin their work.

“The survey will include multiple bore holes being done on site. The purpose of the boring is to determine soil types and to determine the location of any ledge on site,” Howell said. “This information will be extremely helpful as potential building locations and foundation plans are determined for the location.”

Along with the geotechnical survey work, the school district’s civil engineering company has launched conversations with the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department as well as the Maine Forestry Service about the 61 Windham Center Road site. Howell said that opening lines of communication with these two agencies is intended to help with the identification of any possible rare botanical or animal species that may inhabit the location. 

Last fall, the RSU 14 Board of Directors entered into an option-to-purchase agreement with the property owner of 61 Windham Center Road in Windham. The owner agreed to take the property off the market for a period of up to two years. The cost of that option is $110,000 in the first year and if the board votes to move forward with a purchase of the property, $100,000 of the payment would be applied toward the purchase price. The option to extend in the second year is $10,000 per month but none of the funds from the second year would be applied at closing.

Lavallee Brensinger Company of Portland is serving as architects for the project and Howell said the school is being designed to accommodate teams of two to four staff members.

“The teaming structure will give students the feel of being in a smaller school within the larger school. Each team will have spaces that are dedicated to each of the core subject areas,” he said. “In addition, the building will be structured to allow for the integration of some of the applied arts within the team. The development of the team structure will serve to bring the best possible facilities to each team. In contrast, the original Windham Junior High School, now Windham Middle School was built as a departmentalized Junior High School.”

According to Howell, within the current teaming structure, only some classrooms have access to lab classrooms as part of science.

“At Jordan-Small Middle School in Raymond, the building was originally designed as an elementary school. When the building was repurposed as a middle school, two science labs were created to serve students in four different grades,” he said. “The new building will also incorporate the newer state guidelines for room sizes. Many of the classrooms at WMS are significantly undersized when compared to current standards.” 

The original Windham Middle School was built in 1977 and intended for a capacity of 483 students. That number has grown in the last year to 636 students, with sixth graders being housed for some classes at the adjacent Field Allen School, originally constructed in 1949.

RSU 14 first applied for the Maine Department of Education’s Major Capital Construction Program in 2016 for funding for construction and was ranked as the fifth-highest priority among 74 proposed school construction projects statewide each year before eventually gaining approval in March 2021.

Once a district applies for funding, Maine Department of Education reviews and rates the projects based upon need. The State Board of Education then funds as many projects from the list as available debt limit funds allow. Working with the State Board of Education, Maine DOE establishes both size and financial limits on projects.

“The program is highly competitive as a positive rating in the process can lead to a significant financial savings for school districts,” Howell said. “A majority of construction costs for school projects selected through this program will be covered by the state.”

Local school districts may exceed these limits at local expense through municipal bonds, but the state bears the major financial burden of capital costs for approved school construction projects. As such, Maine DOE first looks at the possibility of renovations or renovations with additions and new school construction projects are only considered in instances in which renovation projects are not economically or educationally feasible.

More than 132 potential 35-plus acre sites were originally identified for review by the RSU 14 WMS Building Committee and then ranked according to transportation accessibility, utility availability, environmental impact, and a range of other factors.

“Once we have all of the geotechnical data and reports on the property at 61 Windham Center Road, the committee will make the final recommendation on a possible site for the new school,” Howell said. “The recommendation will be accompanied by a public forum and a straw poll vote on the site. I am anticipating that the straw poll will take place later this fall.”

Howell said that the referendum for the new school project won’t take place until next spring at the earliest.

“The referendum will be the final approval that ultimately determines how much will be spent on the project as well as the approval for the purchase of property for the new site,” he said. “Thanks to the guidance from our architectural firm and the Maine Department of Education School Construction team, there have not been many surprises in the process. Both entities have done an outstanding job of leading our local team through the steps required in the school construction process. The process provides opportunities for due diligence for each and every step that we take.” <

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