A drainage system for a future athletic field at Saccarappa Elementary School is just a small part of the renovation project. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

WESTBROOK — A green dump truck was idling recently in the middle of the dusty lot next to Saccarappa Elementary School.

“That’ll be the library, where the truck is,” Principal Brian Mazjanis said, pointing at it.

Students will arrive at Saccarappa and Westbrook Middle School for the first day of a new year Wednesday. They’ll find active construction sites at both schools, which are being renovated and expanded to accommodate growing enrollments. School officials are preparing to deal with digging and banging just around the corner from full classrooms for the next year or more.

“(The teachers) are worried, but they’re really positive,” said Superintendent Peter Lancia. “They know this is a good thing for their schools.”

Members of the building committee said they’ve heard questions from parents as construction begins. For example, School Committee member Veronica Bates said she has reassured a number of parents that children will have safe and adequate recesses at Saccarappa Elementary, where a temporary playground has been fenced off and separated from the construction site.

Westbrook Superintendent Peter Lancia describes the objectives of the sprawling construction project at Saccarappa Elementary School during a visit to the site Aug. 23. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“I won’t sugar-coat it,” Bates said. “It’s going to be a little bit of a headache. It’s going to mean people planning a little bit of extra time and making a few accommodations while we work on this project. But it’s only temporary. When it’s all said and done, the plans are beautiful and everybody will be very, very happy.”

MORE CLASSROOMS AS ENROLLMENTS GROW

Westbrook voters approved a $27 million bond for the school construction project at the polls in November. School officials said the expansions were necessary because of population growth and housing development in Westbrook. After years of declining enrollment, the district could see more than 300 new students by 2025, Lancia estimated.

The end result will be a complete renovation and 12 new classrooms at Saccarappa Elementary, as well as 12 new classrooms at Westbrook Middle School.

The construction bid took longer than expected to award, but came in about $2 million under budget. That money could be used for extra amenities at the schools, Lancia said. Work began in mid-July, later than planned, but is on schedule so far.

At Westbrook Middle School, 12 classrooms are being added to the eastern end of the three-story building – eight on the third floor and two each on the first and second floors. Principal Laurie Wood said eight existing classrooms will be displaced because of the construction, so those students will move into portable classrooms for the year. A common area in the school also has been converted into a classroom.

Wood said the contractor is taking steps to reduce the impact on students, such as placing sound-deadening walls in the school to block off the construction area.

“I can’t believe that we won’t hear some noise, but I am comfortable and confident from the information that the builders and the architects are giving us that it won’t be at the level where you can’t learn,” Wood said.

EXPECTING AN UNDISTURBED SCHOOL DAY

The completion date for the middle school project is July 2018.

The elementary school project will take much longer, but won’t be as immediately disruptive.

A bucket loader carries sand across the construction site at Saccarappa Elementary School in Westbrook. Students will have to contend with construction all year, as the district begins major expansions of its elementary and middle schools. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The contractor’s first task is to build a new wing onto the school, which will be completed by December 2018. In addition to new classrooms and a larger library, it will contain a gym and a large cafeteria. Students at Saccarappa currently eat lunch in their classrooms and take the bus to another school for gym.

Renovations will begin in the existing school in summer 2018. Students will begin to move into the new wing in January 2019, and renovations will continue in the older side of the school. The entire project should be done before students return to school in August 2019. The interior remodel involves mostly cosmetic work.

“We really want to make sure it doesn’t feel like a new school attached to an old school,” Mazjanis said.

The principal said he hasn’t heard much noise while working in the building over the summer, and the loudest work should be done by the time children arrive this week.

“The kids basically will come to school, and it will be normal,” he said.

Still, navigating buses and cars around the construction equipment will be a challenge.

Both schools have surrounded the construction areas in fencing. The elementary school will add a crossing guard for students, and a traffic monitor will manage the bus loop at the middle school near high-traffic Stroudwater Street.

“With kids and teachers and contractors arriving, that 7-to-8 hour will be busy,” Lancia said.

KEEPING PARENTS INFORMED, REASSURED

School officials and the building committee will monitor the construction plans as well. Regular updates will be available for parents at wsdgrows.org, and information will be distributed through the schools’ regular communication channels. The two principals also encourage parents to contact them directly with questions.

“I want to make sure people see what’s going on every step of the way,” Mazjanis said.

The School Committee hosted numerous meetings on the expansion project, and member Noreen Poitras said parents should look for a notice about another construction meeting shortly after school starts.

“There’s always that concern from the parents that it’s going to be disruptive, but we are trying to reassure everybody,” Poitras said. Bates, the School Committee member, said there should be “minimal, if any” impact on learning.

“We’re doing everything that we can to make sure that when a student is dropped off at school, they have a regular school day,” she said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]herald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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