Friday, October 15, 2021

Raymond could donate land for site of new community middle school

If RSU 14's Board of Directors accepts a proposal from the 
town of Raymond to donate a 45-acre tract near the Windham
town line for a new middle school site, Jordan-Small Middle
School could close and Raymond students would attend a
combined middle school with Windham students when the 
new school is built and opened in 2026.
By Ed Pierce

The lingering issue for RSU 14 about where to locate the site of the new middle school could be a bit clearer following Tuesday night’s meeting of the Raymond Select Board as members voted unanimously to recommend sending students to the new school when it opens in 2026.

Raymond Town Manager Don Willard said that Raymond Select Board members also voted to recommend to the RSU 14 Board of Directors to provide up to 45 acres of town-owned property at no cost for the site of the new school near the border with Windham and on a proposed connector route.     

This gift is contingent upon and subject to a Special Town Meeting approval as a part of the next Board of Selectmen meeting on Nov. 9 and that the property naturally is to be used as the site of the new school,” Willard said.

The Maine Board of Education has greenlighted construction of a new middle school for Windham and RSU 14 is currently in the process of seeking a site to locate the new school.  

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

During a Raymond Board of Selectmen meeting in September, RSU 14 Representative Mike McClellan of Raymond briefed select board members that the state has asked if Raymond would join Windham in sending students to the new school.

McClellan said that if Raymond chose not to do this, it is unlikely that the state would eventually approve new middle school construction for Raymond in the future replacing Jordan-Small Middle School, which now has 192 students total and was built in 1960.

RSU 14 Superintendent Christopher Howell also attended that meeting and told Select Board members that the idea of sending Raymond students to the new Windham Middle School was not part of an agenda to close Jordan-Small Middle School. 

Howell said the state is looking to combine smaller schools and renovations for Jordan-Small Middle School will still be included in the RSU budget, but the state will be unlikely to approve funding for any new construction.

Should Raymond residents decide to send its middle school students to the new school, the Jordan-Small Middle School building will revert to ownership of the town.

Over the two nights of the public hearings, there were roughly 30 individuals from the public who attended.  A majority of those who spoke at the meetings were in favor of keeping JSMS open,” Howell said. “The two straw polls that were taken also supported the idea of keeping the building open.”

According to Howell, the Raymond Select Board’s vote is one step in this process and will be considered by the RSU 14 board as they make this decision.

“I anticipate a decision by the RSU board in early November,” Howell said.

The discussion about the fate of Jordan-Small Middle School comes on the heels of the 2020 referendum in the town of Raymond to withdraw from RSU 14. In that vote, Raymond residents rejected withdrawing from RSU 14 to form its own school district with 2,047 voters saying no to the proposal and 1,018 voting to withdraw. It was the second time in five years that Raymond voters formally rejected a measure to withdraw from RSU 14 with the other rejection taking place in 2015.

“Throughout the public hearings, families shared that they liked being part of the RSU.  Additionally, many shared that they liked the small school feel of Jordan-Small,” Howell said. “Throughout that process, the RSU reiterated that there were not any plans to close the building as part of any district restructuring.  The question facing the town of Raymond is about whether they should be part of this opportunity that has been given to the district.  I feel that I can move forward with a decision that is made in either direction.”

He said that if a decision is made by the RSU 14 Board of Directors board to consolidate, the project’s architects will begin the process of programming for a larger school.

“If the decision is made to keep the building open, we will keep moving forward with the plan to complete the revolving renovation upgrades to Jordan-Small Middle School,” Howell said. “Windham Middle School will continue moving forward as a single-town middle school.” <

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