SKOWHEGAN — As school administrators statewide await the upcoming reevaluation of county color designations, Maine School Administrative District 54’s superintendent told board members what to anticipate in proceeding with sports.

If Somerset County were to remain “green” under the Department of Education’s framework, Superintendent Jon Moody is likely to recommend that the district proceed with high school athletics by hosting practices.

Moody said at Thursday evening’s board of directors meeting that based on metrics from the fall, he believes it likely that sports can continue. Additionally, he cited the recent change in sports under the current color designations.

On Wednesday, the Maine Principals’ Association gave the OK to schools located in “yellow” counties to begin practicing immediately with games to follow.

Scheduling games with other schools, however, is still in question, though Moody predicts each situation will be handled on an individual basis.

“I’m willing to do practices,” Moody said. “It’s consistent with what we’d do in school. It doesn’t make sense not to practice, because we already have that level of interaction. Based on the metrics in Somerset County, I think we’re in good shape. I do think we’ve seen that sports can be done pretty safely. We’ve seen it with basketball but want to proceed cautiously. I think it would be irresponsible to just say, ‘let’s play,’ and I think we should take it on a case-by-case basis.”

On Jan. 11, basketball practices began at Skowhegan Area Middle School, allowing students to practice within their cohorts. Under the original plan presented earlier this month, students were to begin practicing alongside other cohorts as a group.

At a previous meeting, Moody said that in watching fall sports at the high school, he saw no significant transmission of COVID-19 within athletics in the district and far less transmission among sports teams than within school.

To date, there have been 20 cases of COVID-19 within the district, 10 among students and 10 among staff members. Since the beginning of the school year, 314 students and 94 staff members have had to quarantine after possible exposure to the virus. Additionally, 10 positive cases have been recorded outside of school, meaning that students or staff who contracted the virus outside of school were never, at any point, in school while sick or contagious. There have also been two cases among students at Somerset Career and Technical Center. An updated spreadsheet with a breakdown of cases can be found on the district’s website.

“I think we’ve been as transparent as we can be,” Moody said.

When possible, Moody will identify if a case is among students or staff members in a specific building, but if disclosing that information makes the individual in question identifiable, he will not.

Students in prekindergarten through sixth grade are learning in-person five days a week, while grades seven through 12 are learning under a hybrid model. What’s different at the middle school compared to the high school is that students in grades six through eight are learning in the same classroom every day with the exception of certain classes to minimize traffic throughout the hallways.

On Wednesday, Moody sent a letter to families notifying them of two instances of COVID-19 — one involving an individual at Bloomfield Elementary School and one at the Somerset Career and Technical Center.

“Because exposure occurred with individuals at multiple locations, several students and staff have been contacted this evening and asked to quarantine,” Moody wrote. “At this time there is no recommendation that we close a school or take additional actions beyond those described above.”

The North Elementary School sign frames the front entrance to the school in Skowhegan. The site of the school has been ruled out as a site for a new school to replace it. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

NEW SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION

Moody also provided an update to the board regarding new school construction.

North Elementary School, at 33 Jewett St., qualified for the state’s Major Capital School Construction program, ranking No. 2 out of 74 schools. Completed in 1954, the school originally served students in kindergarten through fourth grade. It now serves about 165 students in prekindergarten and kindergarten.

The only decision that has officially been made on the project is that North Elementary School’s current site is not an option for the district to consider due to the size of the property. Currently, administrators are working with Stephen Blatt Architects to assess sites around the area that would be suitable for a new school.

This process is in its early stages, Moody has previously said, and some sites have been explored, including a site off Route 201, a site off Middle Road, property on the district’s campus near Skowhegan Area High School, and Margaret Chase Smith School.

Because of environmental factors and size, the site on the district’s campus has been ruled out. While no site determination has been made, administrators are working with the town of Skowhegan to acquire land near Margaret Chase Smith School in order to make the size of the property feasible for a new school.

Margaret Chase Smith School currently houses around 190 students in fourth and fifth grades in Skowhegan. To use this site for a new school, the district would need to acquire land adjacent to the school, which is located in a 6F area, which is reserved for recreational purposes.

Moody said that this site was ruled out a few months ago because the property that the district owns sits on about 8 acres, which was a much smaller parcel of land than the district wanted. There’s an additional 16-18 acres of recreational fields next to the school, but because of the 6F designation and all of the complications with changing the designation, it was ruled out.

Part of the process of converting the property is working through an agreement that will ensure the town receives value for the fields that would be impacted.

As of Thursday’s meeting, Moody said that architects have been asked to provide a firm cost estimate to give the district a better idea of the cost of relocating ball fields in the town.

If this site were to be used for a new school, the money that might have been used for purchasing land can be used to fund the movement of the fields being lost to the new school.

The complicating factor in this site, Moody has previously said, is that the town owns the land. The Board of Selectmen has to be willing to sell the land to the district and then go to a town meeting for a vote. The vote needs to occur prior to the State Board of Education considering site applications. And even if this happens at the town level, the district may decide to move forward with a different site. Having the purchase and sale agreement allows the district to keep its options open.

As part of the process, the architects and engineers are assessing all district properties to see what the needs are and what resources are already available.

The item is scheduled for discussion at the Jan. 26 Board of Selectmen meeting.

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

Included on the same list of the Department of Education’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, are Canaan Elementary, Bloomfield Elementary in Skowhegan, Skowhegan Area High School and Somerset Technical Center, and Margaret Chase Smith School.

MSAD 54 serves the communities of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Smithfield or Skowhegan.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.