SKOWHEGAN — With North Elementary School qualifying for the state’s Major Capital School Construction program, School Administrative District 54 has embarked upon the process of selecting an architect the district can work with for an extended period of time to build a new school, according to Superintendent Brent Colbry.

“It is not going to be a low-bid situation,” Colbry said. “It’s about finding a firm we can work with for a long time. We know that they’re all highly qualified applicants.”

At Thursday night’s school board meeting, Colbry told community members that the building committee met for the first time earlier in the week to discuss selecting an architect. The district sent out requests for applications and by the December deadline received applications from six firms, all of which have been approved by the state Department of Education.

The building committee, which includes members of the district’s administration and school board members, has been tasked to review the applications and narrow the six interested applicants down to three by the Jan. 27 school board meeting.

“We went over the procurement process for qualification-based architect selection,” Colbry said Thursday. A representative from the Department of Education explained to committee members the kind of questions that they should ask during the interview process as well as what will happen if there is a tie between two firms at the end of the selection process.

North Elementary School, located at 33 Jewett St., was completed in 1954. Originally it served students in kindergarten through fourth grade. Now it serves 153 students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. SAD 54 serves 2,369 students.

There are many deficiencies at the school.

Classrooms at the school have multiple uses, making storage space difficult to find and contributing to a lack of privacy. There is not an adequate amount of space for students to rest in the office or the nurse’s office. Many windows are exposed to the public and shake from traffic going by and closing doors. The art classroom at the school was created using a part of the gymnasium and has no ceiling and cannot be used at the same time that gym classes are held.

Exposed pipes are also a problem at the school. Some heaters in classrooms are unreliable and often overheat. Bathrooms are also a problem. The boys’ bathroom is not wheelchair accessible and there are only two bathrooms for a staff of 41.

In the last two decades, the state has approved 75 projects, though they account for only 30% of the state’s identified needs.

After reviewing schools across the state and their needs for repair, the state rated North Elementary School as No. 2 out of 74 schools.

Schools are ranked using a points system that evaluates the buildings and grounds, population, and programming and planning. The maximum number of points is 200. North Elementary received a score of 124.60 points.

Also included on the state’s list are SAD 54’s Canaan Elementary at No. 24 with 96.64 points; and three Skowhegan schools, Bloomfield Elementary School at No. 23 with 97.03 points, Skowhegan Area High School and Somerset Technical Center at No. 31 with 95.19 points, and Margaret Chase Smith School at No. 45 with 86.01 points.

Of the 74 schools on the list, 20 are within the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal distribution areas. The list is filed under the Department’s Major Capital School Construction Program, which works with school districts to improve the quality and condition of learning facilities for students across the state.

RSU 54 serves the towns of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

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