Schools seek portables in growing Gorham

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A turnout for Monday's Planning Board meeting heard a discussion of solutions for issues concerning continued growth in the town, including portable classrooms to alleviate overcrowding at three schools.

A turnout for Monday’s Planning Board meeting heard a discussion of solutions for issues concerning continued growth in the town, including portable classrooms to alleviate overcrowding at three schools.

GORHAM – Gorham School Department is seeking the Town Planning Board’s approval to add portable classrooms as a temporary measure in the district to solve overcrowding in schools.

Monday, planners held pre-application discussions to add portable buildings at three of the town’s five schools.

Planning Board Chairman Edward Zelmanow said the town is still one of the fastest growing communities in the state. “We have to do something now for the kids,” Zelmanow said.

The School Department is seeking two additional portable buildings with four classrooms at the high school; one portable with two classrooms at the Narragansett Elementary School; and two portables with four classrooms at the Great Falls Elementary School, which opened new in 2011.

Owens McCullough of Sebago Technics represented the School Department as beginning discussions got underway for portable buildings at the two elementary schools.

School officials are bracing for a future enrollment burst in its three schools that house kindergarten through grade 5.  Norm Justice, facilities director for the district, told planners that 300 more kids are expected in the elementary schools in five years.

Justice said Great Falls was designed for 550 students and 580 are expected for next year.

At the high school, enrollment is now about 850 in a building designed for 750 students and utilizes two portable buildings for four classrooms. Two additional portables would increase the total to eight classrooms.

Planning is underway for a high school renovation/expansion project and Harriman Architects & Engineers is designing a concept plan The high school opened in 1959 and received an $11.6 million upgrade in the 1990s.

High school enrollment soared to 900 a few years ago before declining.  Student population at the high school, according to a projection, could grow to 955 in the next 10 years.

Along with the request for more high school portables, planners are also being asked to expand school parking onto a town-owned lot adjacent to the high school. Frank Crabtree of Harriman Artchitects & Engineers in Auburn represented the School Department Monday in a discussion about the high school.

Crabtree said there are 280 parking spaces at the high school and it is “nowhere near enough.”

In other Planning Board action, the panel heard a subdivision review of an expansion request by Kasprzak Homes, Inc., of Waterboro for 26 units in 13 duplex buildings in the Pheasant Knoll development for senior citizens.

The proposal includes building two new interior roads in the development and an extension of Falcon Crest Drive that links with Fort Hill Road.

The review drew a large turnout of neighbors. Ridgefield Drive resident Richard Caldwell, president of a homeowners association, asked for assurances that construction traffic wouldn’t travel through the development over Ridgefield Drive, a private road maintained by homeowners. Caldwell also asked planners for a gate at the end of the Ridgefield Drive.

The review of Kasprzak’s request was postponed to a future date.

A pre-application conference for an 11-lot subdivision proposed by John Hilmer off Great Falls Road attracted a barrage of opposition from neighbors.  Several cited issues including the road condition, water quality, and environmental concerns in addition to adding more kids in schools.

Planners in another pre-application discussion heard of plans by Maine Optometry for a medical office building at Mosher’s Corner — the intersection of routes 25 and 237.

The project is across the highway from the Martin’s Point location in Gorham. A rendering of the building shows a daylight basement below two stories with dormers on the roof.

Thomas Perkins of Dirigo Architectural Engineering said he expects to return to the Planning Board next month with a complete package of plans and would like to start site work as soon as possible.

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