WINSLOW — A committee has chosen an architect to move forward with plans to close the Winslow Junior High School building and move the middle school students to other schools in town.
Stephen Blatt Architects, based in Portland, was chosen by a subcommittee to design and construct any necessary additions to accommodate the additional students at either the Winslow Elementary School or the Winslow High School.
The firm expanded the Winslow High School about seven years ago and is “very excited to continue our work,” Stephen Blatt said.
“We very, very much enjoyed the project we did expanding the high school with the new science wing,” Blatt said Tuesday. “We’ve been somewhat informally consulting … for the past year or so about how to most effectively relocate students.”
Because they’ve worked within Winslow before, the firm knows the campus well and understands how the town works, Blatt said.
The move to close the junior high building on Danielson Street came after years of talking, but officials decided the 1928 building is too old and costly to maintain. It houses about 270 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, while there are about 470 students in kindergarten through grade five at the elementary school and about 440 students in grades nine through 12 at the high school.
Stephen Blatt said his firm is 40 years old and has completed more than 60 school projects. Most of their work is with public schools in Maine and New Hampshire. “This is really the focus of what we do,” Blatt said.
The goal of the project is to close the junior high building within the next three years. The committee is planning a referendum vote in November 2017 to get permission from the town to enter into bonds, or long-term loans, for the project. The town proposed waiting until November 2017 so it could pay off debt in the meantime.
The type of bond the committee applies for will depend on what’s available at the time, although they have some ideas of what bonds tend to have good interest rates, said Eric Haley, superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, a district that serves Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro.
Haley has also said the committee thinks waiting another year is a good idea, as it will give officials more time to plan and prepare.
The subcommittee, made up of six people, interviewed the three firms that submitted applications for the project on Sept. 9. Committee members chose Stephen Blatt Architects based on their presentation and the “feeling of confidence” they got from the company, Haley said.
Haley said there is not yet a specified contract payment for the architect’s services and it will depend on the final price tag of the school building project.
In 2013, a building committee proposed adding a new wing to the elementary school for seventh and eighth graders along with extensions to the cafeteria, library and gymnasium. All told, the consolidation project was estimated at more than $5 million. A preliminary estimate by Blatt released earlier this year had pegged a high school addition at $8.3 million.
Officials say the current proposal of splitting the middle school population — with students going to the elementary and high schools — might cost less than earlier estimates.
Blatt said they were the smallest firm that applied, and they are committed to finding a practical, sustainable and economical solution. He said he understands the project will need to be affordable because there isn’t any state funding involved.
“I have a good feeling that this will be a very successful project,” he said. “We’re ready to hit the road hard.”
Haley expects the committee, along with the architect, will have an estimated price for the project by December or January. He said they have a list of things they’d like to have added to the schools, but there’s a possibility the costs will cause them to scale back their plans, which he said is normal for this type of project.
“I’ve not been involved in one of these projects yet where that didn’t happen,” he said.
Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239