SKOWHEGAN — Step ladders lie stacked on the bare floor next to piles of plywood and sheet rock. Construction tools and staging stand ready for the workers to return Thursday morning — it’s going to be a busy weekend.

Space in the former Variety Drug, which opens Monday in downtown Skowhegan as a high school annex for the Cornville Regional Charter School, may not be completely ready, but school leaders are raring to go.

“School starts around 8:15 Monday,” executive director Travis Works said Wednesday evening during a Chamber of Commerce open house at the new school. “They’ll have a meeting with the engineer about space design, because part of their first couple of weeks is actually designing some of the space they will use. Then it’s activities for the first two weeks off site.”

The 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 hopes to be the first pre-K through grade 12 charter school in the state.

“We’re ready,” Works said. “We’re going to give contractors two weeks to set aside time to work in here while we visit different businesses and build a sense of community. We still have the ceiling and the floor to finish, but everything is coming out as we had planned and somewhat better.”

This year it will be pre-K to grade nine, and “then each year we’ll be adding an age level, so it will be pre-K to 12 in four years,” Works said as renovations got under way in May. By 2020, the charter school will be the first in Maine to have classes from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, he said.


On the ground floor will be four classrooms, each with folding glass walls. 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 there will be 45 students the first year, with a teacher-student ratio of about one teacher for every 15 students.

Downtown business owner Donna Russakoff said she is excited about having a charter high school downtown, but still worries about traffic and safety for the students.

“I think it’s going to be a learning process for everybody, but I do think it’s very positive as long as we work together,” she said. “I have reservations about the safety of the students, so we’ll have to work together.”

Russakoff said she thinks some changes can be made to traffic lights at the crosswalks on Water Street and Commercial Street, when the school entrances and exits will be.

Jeff Hewett, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development, joined about 35 other people for a tour and a talk about the charter high school Wednesday evening. Hewett said he is optimistic.

“They’re going to open,” he said. “There’s no question. Will they be totally finished Monday? No. The next two or three weeks will be busy.”


A charter school is a public school that receives public money, but is created and operated by parents, teachers and community leaders, free of the rules and regulations of the area school district. Charter schools are open to all regional students, with no additional tuition fees or admissions tests. Teachers touch on everyday skills, including cooking, knitting, gardening, technology, engineering and woodworking, along with classroom lessons based on Maine’s Common Core of Learning.

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 and pay rent to the charter school.

The Skowhegan Board of Selectmen this week also approved a $100,000 loan from the town’s revolving loan fund, adding to the $700,000 loan for financing the renovations through Bangor Savings Bank.

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.

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.

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.


Works has said the renovations at the new charter high school will be done in phases over more than five years, with the first floor opening Monday and the elevator installation being delayed until the second year.

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

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.

Govoni said Wednesday night that there have been a couple of delays in construction, but expects all the work to be caught up in two weeks.

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 currently 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.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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