SKOWHEGAN — With written provisions to include an on-duty traffic attendant and close monitoring of parking on downtown streets during the daytime, the Skowhegan Planning Board has approved the site plan for a high school to be operated by the Cornville Regional Charter School.

The vote was 4-0 Tuesday night, with member Chris Kruse not in attendance.

“Our goal is to be part of the downtown, not a hindrance,” engineer Steve Govoni, of Wentworth Partners & Associates Inc., told the board after presenting the plan.

The site plan application was submitted by Govoni, of Skowhegan, on behalf of the Cornville Regional Charter School. The approved plan changes the designation of the so-called Merrill Block on Water Street and Commercial Street from mercantile to educational.

The site is the former Holland’s Variety Drug, with 5,000 square feet of space on the ground floor and 10,000 square feet of vacant space on the second floor that once was home to Skowhegan District Court and law offices.

Approval also is contingent on the completion of a three-year plan for off-site parking, which ultimately will include transportation for an estimated 240 students and 49 staff members. There will be a need for 64 parking spots to be negotiated at private locations such as Hight’s auto dealership, the nearby Catholic church, the lot on Island Avenue next to the Federated Church, space next to New Balance and even spots in Madison.

The plan approved Tuesday night allows for eight parking spaces in the municipal parking lot for staff members who arrive early in the morning. There also is a provision for quick stops for parents to drop off such things as lunch, books or a computer for their children, the board agreed.

Travis Works, executive director of the charter school, said they are in the process of buying the entire building from Kevin Holland, owner of Variety Drug, which moved to High Street a couple of years ago. Works said the school is borrowing and financing the $250,000 needed to buy the building, which also includes ground floor space occupied by the Skills Inc. thrift store and Ginny’s Natural Corner health food store, both of which will remain in place. The former drugstore, with entrances on both Water Street and Commercial Street, has 5,000 square feet of space. Walls can be used to designate five classrooms or can be folded down to open the area up for what Works calls collaborative work space.

“We’ll have glass folding walls. The reason is that we run on a metaphor that learning is transparent, so we want to keep that theme,” he said previously. “You can create different size rooms at any different point. Kids can work in a flexible work environment and groups can assemble.”

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics will share space with the conventional three Rs.

The Cornville Regional Charter School opened as Maine’s first elementary charter school in 2012.

Upstairs, where the court, district attorney’s office, the probate judge and lawyers’ offices were located, is 10,000 square feet of space, all of which will be used for school offices and student project rooms.

Public concern from business owners along busy Water Street about parking and safety have been addressed, Works said, with the designation of the main entrance on Commercial Street, where there is less traffic. As for parking, a private park-and-ride lot has been established on U.S. Route 201 about 2 miles north of downtown.

“If kids drive, they park and we bus them in. Our buses will pick them up,” he said. “It will tap into the busing system that we currently have.”

Works said the school’s main entrance will be on the Commercial Street side, which is quieter and has less traffic and a crosswalk with caution lights on demand. Students, parents and visitors will enter the school from there, where the main office for the principal and the administrative assistant and the lobby will be.

Govoni also noted that release times will be staggered, with three school buses, maybe four in future years, parking next to the Chamber of Commerce building. School hours also will differ from the opening and closing times at Skowhegan Area High School.

Govoni also noted that the size of the student groups leaving at the “final bell” are bound to be smaller with after-school clubs, athletics and speech, drama and art.

The three-year time frame allowed for the transportation plan is based on the fact that in the first two years, only freshmen and sophomores will be attending the school, students who still will be too young to drive. The traffic attendant will be hired by the school in an agreement between the charter school and the town, with no taxpayer money involved. He or she will not be a police officer.

Skowhegan police Chief Don Bolduc and Fire Chief Shawn Howard both have signed off on the site plan for the school.

Works noted that, in the style of a charter school, the classrooms will not be designated in grade levels for high school, such as the conventional 10th, 11th and 12th grades, but will be organized according to advancement of students ages 12 to 20.

The elementary-level charter school is organized in the same way for students ages 5 to 14, so there will be some overlap between the two campuses, Works said. He said he expects 45 students in the charter high school the first year and eventually 240 students. The Cornville campus serves a population of about 144 students in kindergarten through eighth grade from 11 surrounding communities. Classes are expected to begin at the charter high school in August.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]



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