SOUTH PORTLAND — A zoning change needed to build a consolidated middle school next to Memorial Middle School has won unanimous preliminary approval from the City Council.

The council voted 7-0 Tuesday on a first reading of the proposed zoning change, which would allow construction of a four-story school in a residential neighborhood.

The School Department is seeking a conditional school zone for the 17-acre property at 120 Wescott Road. The zone would allow some portions of the proposed school to be up to 60 feet tall, exceeding the 35-foot building height limit in the surrounding Thornton Heights neighborhood.

The council added language to ensure that buildings exceeding 35 feet couldn’t be built elsewhere in the zone.

“It’s a large lot,” Mayor Claude Morgan said Wednesday. “We wanted to make sure that the increased height allowance would only apply to the footprint of the proposed building.”

The council is expected to vote in January on a second reading of the proposed zoning change, which will need five votes to pass, said City Manager Scott Morelli. The council has no further role in determining whether a consolidated middle school will be built at the Memorial site.

School officials plan to host a few community meetings early next year before holding a straw vote on the design concept in February. A citywide referendum on the project would be held in June.

Divided into three wings and set into a hillside, the state-funded project would range from one to four stories. Shorter hallways would help the building feel smaller and lower the cost of mechanical systems, including geothermal heating and cooling, solar power and other amenities geared toward environmental sustainability.

The proposed school would be built behind Memorial, so the existing school could remain open during construction. Memorial would then be torn down to make way for parking, driveways and other features of the consolidated school, which would open as early as September 2022.

City officials have yet to determine what would be done with Mahoney Middle School, located near Mill Creek Park at Broadway and Ocean Street. Both Mahoney and Memorial have significant structural, health, safety and handicapped-access deficiencies, along with asbestos throughout and inadequate heating, ventilation, plumbing, electrical and communication systems.

While some residents oppose building a consolidated middle school at Memorial, citizens voted 151-49 in favor of the Wescott Road site in a straw poll held in June.

State funding is available to renovate Mahoney, build a new school for Mahoney students on a different site, or build one school for all South Portland middle school students. School officials say the state won’t fund construction of a new Memorial, which would cost city taxpayers an estimated $30 million.

A consolidated middle school would accommodate grades 5 through 8, incorporating fifth-graders from the city’s five elementary schools. It also would allow the district to expand its pre-kindergarten program in the elementary schools and address other building needs with minimal impact on local taxpayers.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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