SKOWHEGAN — Walls, ceilings and floors at the former Variety Drug and the old Twelfth District Court in downtown Skowhegan have been cleared, exposing original 1905 joists, hardwood flooring and brick walls as Cornville Regional Charter School sets its sights on the end of August to open a downtown charter high school.

By 2020, the charter school will be the first in Maine to have classes from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

“We’re moving full speed ahead and things are on track,” charter school Executive Director and Principal Travis Works said Monday from the gutted ground floor where four classrooms, each with folding glass walls, will open Aug. 28 for ninth-grade students. Works said the charter school curriculum allows students whose ages correspond to seventh, eighth and ninth grades — ages 12 and up — to use the space and circulate back to the Cornville campus as needed. A student has to be socially, emotionally and academically ready to advance, he said.

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.

State subsidies totaling about $2 million — with enrollment growing from 140 students to 221 and the school adding a pre-kindergarten and a ninth grade — will cover expansion, renovation and day-to-day operations beginning July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, according to Works. State subsidy in the current budget year is about $1.3 million.

Works said Cornville is a free public school, so it cannot charge tuition. When a child enrolls in a charter school, the state money that normally follows that child comes directly to the charter school from the state. It does not come out of the local public school district.

Funding from the state is determined by the enrollment. The money allotted for each child depends on a combination of where they live and their demographics.

“The charter school is using its state subsidy to pay down the debt,” Works said. “We also have some grants coming in that are offsetting some of our costs. We have a series of grants we’re applying for that it looks like we’re going to get.”

The school also is applying for town facade grant funding for some of the renovations and is seeking a grant under the federal GEAR UP program — Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs — a competitive grant program of the U.S. Department of Education.

Owner financing with Kevin Holland, who sold them the building, also will cut down on expenses, he said. There also will be rent payments from Ginny’s and the Skills Inc. thrift store.

“That money goes directly towards paying our mortgage on the building, and we are financing the renovations through Bangor Savings (Bank),” Works said of the rent payments.

He said renovation will be done in phases over more than five years, with the first floor opening for the fall of 2017 and the elevator installation being delayed until the second year.

Works said he has picked the three full-time staff members who will join the high school when classes begin. Longtime educator Crystal Priest, of Guilford, who once taught technology at Madison Area Memorial High School, will become the building administrator, director of technology and the technology, science and mathematics teacher. The English language and social studies teacher in the school’s integrated program of studies will be Elizabeth Firnkes, of Auburn, who taught in the Messalonskee school district. Rounding out the team is Kirby Reardon, of Chelsea, who will teach science and mathematics.

Works said there will be 45 students the first year, with a teacher-student ratio of about one teacher for every 15 students.

He said Reardon and Firnkes worked together as a team in Belgrade using the curriculum the Cornville school now uses, called the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning.

“When you talk about a new staff coming together, you have a very experienced, seasoned staff. They have over 20 years of teaching experience,” Works said. “We feel that it’s going to be a great dynamic.”

The Skowhegan Planning Board in February approved the site plan for the new high school with a provision that an on-duty traffic attendant be employed and the assurance of close monitoring of parking on downtown streets during the daytime. The site plan application was submitted by engineer Steve Govoni, of Wentworth Partners & Associates Inc.,

Renovation this week included preparation for the four classrooms on the ground floor this year. There also is a deep pit, from which buckets of rock and soil were hauled up by hand to make way for the school elevator, which will go all the way to the roof. In the basement, the finished rooms will include a pottery studio with potter’s wheels and a kiln and a soundproof video production room.

A new boiler and heating system also will be installed, as will server infrastructure for all electronic and internet connections. Floor joists are “full dimension” 3-by-12-inch spruce boards not planed thinner like modern lumber. There also are a granite foundation and four brick firewalls in the basement.

“They built it to last,” Works said.

Construction work is being done by Brian Frigon and his BNF Building Contractors, of Moscow.

Works said the school is expanding to include 32 pre-kindergarten students in two daily sessions at the former Kelly’s Learning Loft and Out Of The Box Play Land on South Factory Street. 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.

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.

“Next year it will be pre-K to grade 9, and then each year we’ll be adding an age level, so it will be pre-K to 12 in four years,” Works said.

Cornville Regional Charter School, which opened as Maine’s first elementary-level charter school in 2012, was given state approval by the Maine Charter Commission in December 2016 to add a charter high school and pre-kindergarten classes to its program. The school aims to be the first pre-K through grade 12 charter school in the state.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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