Jon Moody, superintendent of Maine School Administrative District 54, on Monday said the district is looking at the Margaret Chase Smith School area as a promising site for a school that will replace North Elementary. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — District officials believe that Margaret Chase Smith School would be the best site for a new school to replace North Elementary.

Jon Moody, superintendent of School Administrative District 54, said Monday that several meetings are to be held with the town of Skowhegan as well as other stakeholders in the new school project.

North Elementary, 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 initially served students in kindergarten through fourth grade. It now serves around 165 students in prekindergarten and kindergarten.

Moody said Monday though much work is needed before a final decision is made, administrators and stakeholders in the project believe that the Margaret Chase Smith site, at 40 Heselton St., is the best option from several sites that were looked at.

“There are still a lot of pieces including the work with the town, the approval of the select board, and the straw poll of voters,” Moody said. “We do believe the Margaret Chase Smith School site is the best site though.”

The district has also explored other properties in town, including a site off of U.S. Route 201, a site off Middle Road and property on the district’s campus near Skowhegan Area High School, which has been ruled out.

To use the Margaret Chase Smith 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. The property that the district owns sits on about 8 acres; acquiring the land would add an additional 16-18 acres.

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 to the town.

Moody said that he was working with the town this week to get an estimate on how much this will cost and other logistics.

From there, the town’s Board of Selectmen must be willing to sell the land to the district. Then it goes to a town meeting for a vote. This vote needs to occur prior to the State Board of Education considering site applications in order to begin the conversion.

Even if this happens at the town level, the district may still decide to move forward with a different site, but having the purchase and sale agreement allows them to keep their options open.

District officials have been working with Stephen Blatt Associates, based out of Portland. The district worked with these architects previously on Skowhegan Area Middle School and Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock.

He added that administrators are discussing what grades and towns will be affected by the creation of the new school. They are looking at prekindergarten through grade five or six, but this part of the process is still under review. The schools affected would be Margaret Chase Smith, North Elementary, Bloomfield Elementary and Canaan Elementary.

“The assessment of the firm is that the original Canaan building could support prekindergarten through grade two, with the other grades being part of the new building project,” Moody said. “There is more work on this front and I’ll be setting up some informational sessions in the not too distant future to answer questions and get feedback/thoughts.”

The only decision that has officially been made on the new school project is that North Elementary School’s current site is not an option for the district to consider due to the property’s size.

Staff at the elementary schools around the district have been kept in the loop as well, the superintendent said. Doing this “also lays the groundwork for the next phase” of the Department of Education’s project, which is to examine educational specifications. In this phase, officials look at the programming in a new building and involve stakeholders, including staff.

“We’d like to begin this process this year before staff are out of school,” Moody said.

Moody added that he plans to update the board of directors with additional information at the meeting Thursday, which begins at 7 p.m. at Skowhegan Area High School.

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.

Other schools throughout the district are also included on this same list, including Bloomfield Elementary, Skowhegan Area High School, Somerset Career and Technical Center and Margaret Chase Smith School.

“The key here is that we will be involving stakeholders through every part of the process as we progress, including formal informational sessions, but also to include surveys and other formats for people to provide their thoughts.

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

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