Friday, October 1, 2021

State approves new WMS construction

Large parcels of land for sale, like this location off Hall Road
in Windham may be considered by RSU 14 as potential sites 
for the State Board of Education to purchase for construction
of the new Windham Middle School. RSU 14 hopes to have a
site identified by October 2022 with the new school building
finished by the fall of 2026. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE 

By Ed Pierce

After a careful review of an architectural study of Windham Middle School, the State Board of Education has chosen to move ahead with construction of a new middle school and a search has been launched to identify potential sites for the new educational facility.

RSU 14 is now actively looking for 40-acre parcels of land that are available for purchase and them would recommend to the State Board of Education which one it would prefer to locate the new school. Because it is a state-funded project, the school district will work with the state to negotiate the project fees and a total cost associated with the construction.

The new school is expected to be ready by the start of the 2026-2027 school year, said Christopher Howell, RSU 14 superintendent of schools.

“The district is looking to narrow down potential sites by the end of this year,” Howell said. “The target would give the district ample opportunity to conduct environmental studies on a location. The final straw poll vote on a potential site is tentatively scheduled for October 2022.”

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. 

In June, the RSU 14 Board of Directors voted 8-0 to approve hiring the Lavallee Brensinger Company of Portland to serve as architects for the project.  

“Lavallee Brensinger, our architect, is completing a review of existing engineering studies that have been completed for the old middle school building,” Howell said. “There appears to be enough documentation at this time to support a new building for the district.”

In choosing a site for the new school, Howell said the school district, in consultation with the civil engineers on the project, will complete a matrix on all potential sites. 

“The matrix will include elements such as traffic, availability of utilities (three-phase power, public water, sewer), environmental impact, proximity to population density, and purchase price of the property,” he said. “Once a site is determined, a public meeting will be held for a straw poll vote. The RSU 14 board will use the recommendation to make a final vote that will be recommended to the State Board of Education. The state will reimburse the district for the property.  The reimbursement will be based on the average of two appraisals on the property.”  

According to Howell, both the architect and the RSU 14’s civil engineer will help the district with the decision matrix, which will be presented to the public for a straw poll. The results of that poll will be reviewed by the RSU 14 board for a final recommendation to the Department of Education.

In addition to the decision matrix, the district will take into consideration the long and short-term costs of siting a building on a location,” Howell said. “This would include costs associated with student transportation, utilities, as well as possible road and infrastructure upgrades that would be required for the project.”

Other determining factors would weigh the impact to the environment, availability of space for athletic fields/parking and in a location near an existing road that can handle the traffic of a large school.

Howell said the most interesting aspect of working on this project so has been the opportunity to work with the state on a building project. 

“The process has allowed us the opportunity to look at programming across the district to ensure that we are covering all aspects of this project,” he said. “The opportunity to visit other recently completed buildings across the state has reinforced how fortunate we are to have this opportunity.”

After several years of being ranked at Number 5 overall among state-approved and subsidized construction projects, RSU 14 learned in March that the project was moving forward.

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 gaining approval.

“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.”

Once the school district starts to narrow in on potential sites, it will begin work with the architect on the conceptual design of the building.

“This process will include revisiting some visioning work that has been already completed with middle level staff,” Howell said.

The site selection process will be discussed at the Oct. 6 meeting of the RSU 14 Board of Directors and Howell said in the meantime, the public can forward any potential site locations to him at <

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