FAIRFIELD — Members of the Maine State Board of Education who toured Fairfield Primary School on Wednesday got a firsthand look at the state’s No. 1 school construction priority, including a top floor with no windows or running water used as the school’s art and music room.

The school, which serves about 140 students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, is spread out over four floors and a basement gymnasium and is plagued by a lack of windows and storage space and exposed wiring, though Principal Lori Lee said the staff tries to make the best of it. Buckets are set up in some rooms to catch leaks from the ceiling.

“I think our school is doing very well at teaching 21st-century learning in a 20th-century facility,” Lee said. “We’re kind of in a building that’s a century removed now from who we are. It’s not just about modern amenities; it’s about having some of the things we need.”

The school, which dates to around 1907 but was re-built after a fire in 1925, is currently ranked first on the state’s capital construction priority list. The list is based on a state rubric that takes into account health and safety of buildings as well as other items such as programming and overcrowding.

Right now there is no firm timeline or idea of what specific plans might be put in place to update the existing school or build a new one. It’s also unclear how much state funding would be available to School Administrative District 49, though officials said Wednesday the state probably would pay for a majority of any project that gets approved.

“It’s too early,” SAD 49 Superintendent Reza Namin said. “I just don’t want to talk about closing this or closing that, because that’s really sensitive. Let’s just figure out who we are first and list our priorities. What is the most effective way to deliver education? That’s the initial conversation, whereas in the past parents felt like they were told, ‘Oh, we’re just going to close this.’ I don’t want to do that. I want to listen to everyone.”

The school district is soliciting bids for a strategic planning firm to assist in developing a vision for Fairfield Primary as well as other schools in the district.

In the past, there has been talk of consolidating elementary schools in the district. Namin said while consolidation still could be a possibility, it’s a conversation that needs to be had by the community. Public meetings to solicit feedback probably will be held in spring 2019.

He said he’s also interested in exploring the possibility of moving sixth-grade students, currently spread out among three elementary schools, to Lawrence Junior High School.

That could help pave the way for a new pre-kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school.

As strategic planning starts to take place, Namin said he wants to keep in mind some of the goals he has as a new superintendent, including implementing universal pre-kindergarten, expanding the district’s gifted-and-talented program and taking advantage of the proximity of Kennebec Valley Community College to encourage more high school students to take college classes.

“I don’t want to open a conversation on which school gets closed,” Namin said. “What I would like to do is get the community together to determine our priorities and examine what our needs are.”

Enrollment in SAD 49, which serves the towns of Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield, is 2,113 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12. As part of the planning process, the district also will be conducting enrollment projections to determine future building needs.

Wilson Hess, chairman of the Maine State Board of Education, said it’s too soon to say how much funding from the state might be available to SAD 49; but given its spot on the priority list, the state probably would cover a large portion of the expenses.

Once the district comes up with a plan for construction, it will submit it to the board for approval and funding. It probably will be two to three years before any construction starts, Hess said.

Lee, the principal, said the Fairfield Primary building is safe, though a number of changes could be made. Right now, the school is spread out among four floors and a basement, and her office is on a different floor from where her secretary is.

“It would be very helpful if, for children of this age, we did not have so many stairs,” she said.

At the same time, though, the building also has a lot of history and is used by the community for other things, such as basketball games.

“My thought is, if we do exit this building, it could really serve the community moving forward,” she said. “It would just have to be cared for. That’s all.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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