FAIRFIELD — Officials from the Maine Department of Education have approved School Administrative District 49 to move forward with the first steps to replace Fairfield Primary School.

The school serves 151 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten-age students and spans four floors, the top of which has no windows or running water and is used as the arts and music room. Leaks, exposed wiring and lack of storage space are also rampant throughout the building.

The State Board of Education has three categories to evaluate for its Major Capital School Construction Projects, according to Scott Brown, director of school facilities for MDOE. Depending on how a school scores in buildings and grounds, enrollment and overcrowding, and program areas determines whether it’s eligible for a replacement project and how urgent that replacement is.

The process to replace the school began in March 2017 when the district submitted three school project applications to the Maine Department of Education for Major Capital Improvement.

Last spring, the department published a final priority list of 74 schools, among which Fairfield was ranked No. 1, Clinton Elementary School as No. 39, and Albion Elementary School as No. 58.

“The school received the rating it did because of many factors, including the condition and age of the building,” Superintendent Roberta Hersom said in an email. “And its capacity to support the programming and services students need for success.”

According to Brown, the project is in its infancy and not much is known about what exactly the replacement will entail.

“We’re at the very beginning of a 21-step process,” Brown said. “The only thing they know for fact is they applied, they scored well and the state is committed to moving forward.”

Brown said it’s too early to specify if the school, which was originally built in 1907 and rebuilt in 1926 after a fire, will shut down and be rebuilt at a new location.

For now, state officials will begin to evaluate the school’s needs and work with the district to research things such as costs and contractors.

“Our programming and facility needs will be studied further and taken into account as the project develops,” Hersom said.

The project had been stagnant since last December, when the district hosted a meeting with the state board to discuss the building’s condition. On Oct. 8 Hersom received the phone call she’d been waiting for.

“I received a call from Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin, notifying me that she recommended that the State Board of Education approve the first three school construction projects on the list, and that the State Board would be meeting the next day at Rumford Elementary (listed No. 3) to take action on her recommendation,” Hersom said. “I also spoke with Scott Brown, Maine DOE director of school construction that day — he said that we would meet in the upcoming weeks to discuss the initial steps of the process, and how the district may proceed. I notified our school board on Oct. 9 that the State Board of Education approved Fairfield Primary School as one of the three funded projects.”

The view from Fairfield Memorial Park shows the historic school building which houses the Fairfield Primary School at the left. The building is slated for replacement. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

Hersom and Board Chair Jenny Boyden met with Brown before announcing the approval at a school board meeting on Oct. 17 to discuss the initial steps of the process. Those steps include discussing the building committee, procuring advertisement, and selecting the most qualified team to provide the school construction services.

“… the MDOE director of school construction will provide guidance throughout the process, working closely with the district,” Hersom said. “We know to expect careful and methodical steps to ensure project success. As shared at our board meeting, one of those initial steps is to advertise for Request for Qualifications as the district begins the process of evaluating needs.”

Fairfield Primary had been the focus of conversations of consolidation with Albion, Benton and Clinton elementary schools for a number of years. Former Superintendent Dean Baker submitted the original application for replacement of the school in 2017, in which it was stated that the district was looking to consolidate. But after former Superintendent Reza Namin took over in August 2018, the district began to backtrack on that idea.

There is no update to whether the district will seek to consolidate the elementary schools.

“Again, we are so pleased to have received this wonderful news and look forward to the process, and opening the doors to a new school in MSAD 49,” Hersom said.

The overhead view of the parking lot from the historic school building which houses the Fairfield Primary School. The building, shown Tuesday in Fairfield is slated for replacement. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

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