District hopeful after state puts middle school high on list

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WINDHAM — RSU 14 leadership is excited and optimistic that Windham Middle School’s high ranking on a state funding priority list could lead to a new or renovated building in the coming years. 

The Maine Department of Education’s recently released list of proposed funding priorities for its Major Capital School Construction Program has Windham Middle School ranked as the fifth overall priority. 

“We’re excited to be number five on the list, it’s really great,” RSU 14 Facilities Director Bill Hansen said Tuesday, adding that the position “certainly puts us in a much better place to potentially be funded for a project” than in the previous state round of priorities when Windham Middle School was 43rd on the list. 

The Department of Education’s website explains the process for state-subsidized construction project.

“School systems seeking State-subsidized construction projects periodically apply to the Department for a major capital school construction project,” the website says. “A team from the Maine DOE reviews the applications and conducts a site visit to each applicant’s school district.”

Following the site visit, schools receive a rating and are ranked by need, and the department then works with the State Board of Education to set the size and limit of projects. 

Districts can also chose to pursue construction projects without state funding. 

Windham Middle School Principal Drew Patin stressed this week that even if RSU 14 receives state funding for a middle school project, a new school building isn’t a sure thing and renovations could still be on the table. 

“One of the things to be clear about when it comes to the major capital improvement project is that does not mean it is a new school,” Patin said. “What the state does is, if we end up getting funded for this, and that’s all dependent on the Legislature and all that stuff, they’re going to come in and basically, in really simple terms, take a look at the problem, and they’re going to propose a solution to that.” 

Patin has some experience with the state school construction program, having previously worked in the Sanford School District, which is in the midst of several construction projects. 

“We can say we’d love a school, but at the same time, they may say,  ‘No, we can fix your problems by doing x, y, and z.'”

Patin and Hansen outlined some of the problems with the existing Windham Middle School layout, which is spread between two buildings.

The approximately 620-student middle school is split between the main building and the Field-Allen building.

The main building is about 40 years old and doesn’t comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and Field-Allen was built in 1947. 

Patin said about 200 students go back and forth between the Field Allen and main buildings, and the biggest need in a new or renovated middle school would be having all middle school students under one roof. 

“The glaring one is that all the kids need to be in the same building,” he stressed. 

In June 2016, the RSU 14 school board endorsed a $42.5 million plan to build a new middle school on the campus rather than renovate. That plan did not go before residents for a vote as the district later decided to pursue state funding. 

Hansen said the middle school has been a “focus of replacement” for all nine years he’s been with the district, and that RSU 14 officials would work with the state to share the work already been done assessing options for the building. 

“We have a proposed solution of putting a new school on the site, that’s certainly one of the options that are out there,” Hansen said. “Renovation of the existing building in an option, though it would be very challenging to do that because the site is so tight.” 

Patin also noted the project’s significant climb up the priority list, and credited RSU 14’s work with PDT Architects of Portland to strengthen the districts application to the state. 

Hansen said he is “very optimistic” the district will eventually get the state funding, and if selected, said the project could be completed in four to six years. 

But for now, the district will play a bit of a waiting game. 

“Can’t wait to hear from DOE,” said RSU 14 Superintendent Sanford Prince. 

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Windham Middle School ranked fifth on the Maine Department of Education’s recently released list of funding priorities for major capital school construction. 

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