Gorham High School project needs more planning cash

A news clipping shows Gorham High School when it opened in 1959.

GORHAM — The School Department next month will likely ask the Town Council for more cash to plan its renovation/expansion project at the aging high school.

The Town Council advanced the School Department $150,000 in September with the understanding that another allotment would be needed. School officials hired Harriman Architects & Engineers in October for $217,500 to design a concept for a project.

Superintendent Heather Perry this week anticipated asking for an additional $68,000.

“This would likely mean a formal request at their (Town Council) next regular meeting scheduled for Feb. 6,” Perry said. “This total amount of a little over $217,000 would fully fund the contract with Harriman.”

Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak and town councilors will hear an update on the high school planning when they meet with the School Committee in a joint workshop on Wednesday, Jan. 17, in Conference Room A at Gorham Municipal Center, 75 South St.

School officials say the high school is outdated and overcrowded.

The high school opened in 1959 and a renovation in the 1990s cost $11.6 million. It was designed for 750 students but enrollment reached about 850 in September. School Committee Chairman Darryl Wright told town councilors last week that an additional 50 students is projected for the next school year.

Enrollment a few years ago had bumped up to 900 before declining. Projections have indicated a population of 955 students within a decade.

A paid feasibility study last year by Oak Point Associates found needs at the high school that included 12 additional classrooms, four more science labs, expanded cafeteria and auditorium, and a shortage of parking.

Now, school officials are working with Harriman in assessing needs for a project. Following the assessment, Harriman will then develop some options for a project.

Final cost of a project might not be known until early 2019. “We will not be able to provide estimates of costs until after the needs assessment process is completed,” Wright told town councilors last week.

Options outlined in last year’s feasibility study included a new high school at a new site, new construction at the present campus, swapping the middle and high schools, and a renovation/addition of the high school.

School officials have opted to keep the high school at its current 23-acre site. The feasibility study pegged cost of a renovation/addition project at about $54 million but $63 million with extra options that included a practice gym, lecture hall, and upgrades for athletic fields and fascilities.

The Town Council is the board that would approve sending a high school project to referendum.

Local voters likely will decide fate of a project at the polls in June 2019, according to a School Department timeline. Gorham property taxpayers would be asked to pay for the project without state funding.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com