Friday, October 20, 2023

Referendum seeks voter approval to build new middle school

By Ed Pierce

With Election Day nearing on Nov. 7, a referendum is asking voters in the towns of Windham and Raymond to approve a proposal to construct the proposed Windham/Raymond Middle School at 61 Windham Center Road in Windham.

A referendum seeking approval for RSU 14's proposed new
Windham/Raymond Middle School will be before voters
on Nov. 7. Clockwise are sketches of the school's outdoor
learning area, front entrance, a classroom and a
team-teaching area. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
The total cost of the new school is estimated to be $171,563,889 and the state of Maine would pick up $131,725 million, or 76.8 percent of that amount. That leaves 23.20 percent, or about $31,870,755 remaining with voters in Windham asked to OK gradually funding 80 percent of what’s left or $25,496 million. Raymond voters will be asked to approve gradually funding 20 percent of the remaining cost or about $6,374 million.

RSU 14 Superintendent Christopher Howell said that if the referendum passes, the school district is anticipating that the Windham/Raymond Middle School project will be financed through either two or three separate bonds during construction.

“The stair step approach to financing will provide a gradual increase to the mil rate in both communities,” Howell said. “With updated interest rates, we are anticipating a 28-cent increase in the first year in Windham and a 33-cent increase in Raymond. In the second year, it would roughly increase an additional 41 cents in Windham and 19 cents in Raymond. This is assuming that town valuations remain the same. If three bonds are issued, the steps towards the final mil impact would take place over three years and not two.”

Howell said the district is seeking voter support because both Windham Middle School and Jordan-Small Middle School are older schools and are both in need of significant upgrades in continue to be used as educational facilities into the future.

“The district has the opportunity to develop a new campus with a new energy efficient and secure building that will cost the local taxpayers far less than a renovation project in both buildings. The opportunity is being provided by the Major Capital Construction Program run by the Department of Education,” he said. “Seventy-four schools were rated by the Maine DOE in 2018 and were placed on a priority list that is based on need. Windham Middle School scored fifth on the list. The high rating for WMS was due to several factors that included structural issues in the roofing system of the classroom wing, outdated/inadequate electrical and HVAC systems, and that the building is undersized with one-third of the student population and several applied arts programs taking place in a separate building.”

According to Howell, besides addressing the shortcomings in the current facilities, the project will also help to address areas of programming that are currently lacking in both buildings.

“This will include a science lab for each science teacher, project spaces for students, classroom spaces for academic interventions and special education, increased safety and security for students and employees, classrooms that meet state requirements for minimum size, adequately equipped technology classroom and art rooms, music and performing arts spaces that match current programming, and additional play and competition space outdoors,” he said. “Outside of the direct impact to the middle level, the change in grade configuration will provide the opportunity for the district to provide universal Pre-k for any families that are interested in accessing this service. The facility will be an asset for both communities in the spaces that are provided. The project includes walking trails as well as access to the neighboring Pringle Preserve. The large gym and auxiliary gym spaces provided by that state will provide additional play spaces for youth and adult sports including an indoor walking track for community use outside of school hours. Lastly, the project includes an auditorium that will be accessed by students participating in the performing arts as well as our local community theater programs. Lastly, the two current buildings are slated to be returned to both towns for future community use. In discussions with the leadership in both communities, there has been interest in turning the two schools into community centers.”

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 555 students this year, with sixth graders being housed for some classes at the adjacent Field Allen School, originally constructed in 1949. Jordan-Small Middle School in Raymond was built in 1960 and currently has an enrollment of 184 students.

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. The RSU 14 Board of Directors entered into an option-to-purchase agreement with the owner of 61 Windham Center Road in Windham and the owner agreed to take the property off the market for a period of up to two years in 2021.

As part of the proposal to build the new Windham/Raymond Middle School, Windham and Raymond students in Grades 5 to 8 would attend classes there. Windham fifth graders currently attending Manchester School would instead attend the new school, as would Jordan-Small Middle School students from Raymond. The new school is being designed for a capacity of 1,200 students.

Lavallee Brensinger Company of Portland is serving as architects for the construction project and Howell said that the new 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.”

Howell said that under provisions of the State of Maine Construction Program, school districts must pass a referendum within six months of having the concept for the school approved by the Maine State School Board.

“If a district fails to have a positive referendum within the time frame, the project can be removed from the state funding list,” he said. “The concept for this building project was approved on Sept. 13. In the event of a no vote on this referendum, the building committee and school committee would need to reconvene and look at a revamped project that could be sent out to voters. The additional constraint that we are also working under is the land purchase. Our option to purchase 61 Windham Center Road will expire on Dec. 31 of this year. If a project cannot be passed, any future projects would have to be locally funded.” <

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your Comments Help Improve Your Community.