FAIRIFIELD — A Portland architectural firm has recommended Maine School Administrative District 49 stop using three of its elementary schools for educational purposes after an assessment raised concerns about the buildings.

During a public forum Tuesday night about the Fairfield Primary School construction project, representatives of CHA Architecture shared findings of a 10-month feasibility study of Albion Elementary School, Benton Elementary School, Clinton Elementary School and Fairfield Primary School.

“We were asked to look at the following things: current capacity, space allocation and utilization, building system assessments, compliance with current codes and regulations, expansion capacity and site analysis capacity for current best practices for site circulation,” Project Manager Kathryn Cogan said.

At Albion Elementary School, Clinton Elementary School and Fairfield Primary School, CHA found the mechanical and electrical systems are “exhausted,” many aspects of the buildings do not meet standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act and overall accessibility is lacking.

Benton Elementary School, the newest of the district’s elementary buildings, was found to be in the best shape.

“That’s a solid building,” said Alan Kuniholm, CHA’s director of design.

Based on its study of MSAD 49 schools, CHA recommended the district stop using the three buildings in Albion, Clinton and Fairfield for educational purposes until needed upgrades are made.

Cogan said the estimated cost of renovations come in at more than $3 million for Albion Elementary and more than $4 million for Clinton Elementary.

“That doesn’t include ADA upgrades or energy-efficiency upgrades,” Cogan said. 

CHA was commissioned by MSAD 49 for the feasibility study after Fairfield Primary School was approved by the Maine Department of Education for replacement.

The State Board of Education uses three categories when evaluating school construction projects: How a school scores in buildings and grounds, enrollment and overcrowding and program areas. State education officials use those measures to determine if and how quickly schools should be replaced.

The Fairfield Primary School project has been in the works since 2012, but the process to replace it took off in March 2017 when the district submitted three school project applications to the state for major capital improvements.

In the spring of 2019, the Maine DOE published a priority list of 74 schools that ranked Fairfield Primary School first, Clinton Elementary School 39th and Albion Elementary School 58th.

In November 2019, the State Board of Education approved the first three school construction projects on the list.

Cogan said the Fairfield Primary School construction project is at the fifth step in a 20-step process.

“Step 20 is construction,” Cogan said, “so there’s quite a bit of work to do between now and when the project goes to referendum.”

MSAD 49 Superintendent Roberta Hersom said Tuesday’s forum was the first of several public discussions she expects to hold on the project.

“The is the first of an ongoing public engagement process. No determinations have been made,” Hersom wrote in an email Tuesday. “We are in the initial phase and will continue with these conversations in the months ahead.”

Fairfield Primary School had been the focus of consolidation talks 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 he wrote 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.

Consolidation will be a topic of discussion throughout the project, Cogan said.

At Tuesday’s forum, Cogan and Kuniholm also discussed how classroom structure and learning style have changed since the district’s schools were built.

“The selection of Fairfield Primary School as the first project on the MDOE Major Capital School Construction list is a great gift, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hersom said. “Collectively, we will define our facility and programming needs that best support learning and serve the community. This is a time to consider all that is possible and reasonable. It is an incredibly exciting time for MSAD 49.”

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