SKOWHEGAN — Progress continues to be made to determine where a new school within School Administrative District 54 will be located.

On Thursday, Superintendent Jon Moody provided the board of directors with an update on the new school building project. After spending days deliberating with town officials over land acquisition, district officials are now working with the town of Skowhegan to draft language for a purchase agreement for the transfer of land.

Though much work needs to be done 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 among several sites that were looked at.

To use the Margaret Chase Smith site for a new school, the district needs to acquire land adjacent to the current school, which is located in a 6F area, which must be reserved for recreational purposes. Acquiring this land would add an additional 16-18 acres to the 8 that the district already owns on site.

The town is looking at a site adjacent to the Skowhegan Community Center at 39 Poulin Drive for recreational fields, Moody said.

“It’s complex because it’s going to be a transfer of land for us to begin working the school project. Simultaneously, we’ll apply for the 6F conversion, which would change the federal lands out of protections and apply that to another site,” Moody said.

The application process for the relocation of fields will also happen simultaneously as the district moves through the building process.

Though the wheels are turning on this project, no definite decision has been made on where a new school will sit and what grade levels will be served in the new building. If the district opts to use the Margaret Chase Smith site, the money that might have been used for purchasing land can instead be used to fund the movement of fields being lost to the new school back to the town.

“There has to be a town vote on whether or not to do that transfer of land,” Moody said. “That is separate from the straw poll that will have to happen on site selection.”

Approval from the Board of Selectmen as well as a town meeting vote must occur prior to the State Board of Education considering the site application 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.

Discussions around what grades and towns will be affected by the creation of a new school have also happened among administrators. 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.

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.

The district has also explored other properties in town, including a site off 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.

Stephen Blatt Associates has been working with MSAD 54 administrators on this project. Based out of Portland, the architects have previously worked with the district on Skowhegan Area Middle School and Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock.

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

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