The main entrance to North Elementary School in Skowhegan is seen Jan. 6, 2020. The school is No. 2 on the state Department of Education list of capital construction projects. The district is working to find an alternative site to build a new school. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

SKOWHEGAN — A public information meeting is scheduled for Monday for a community update on Maine School Administrative District 54’s building project.

The meeting, set for 6 p.m. in the gymnasium at Margaret Chase Smith School, will also be presented on Zoom. A link will be added to the district’s website prior to the meeting.

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.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Jon Moody presented an update on the project to the town’s Planning Board.

“We would likely break ground sometime at the end of 2023 with the goal of starting school the fall of 2025,” Moody said. “Margaret Chase Smith is an exciting site for us, it’s a current site and would allow us to have that (current) building demolished once the new school is built over the summer, prior to kids moving in.

The only decision that has been made officially on the project is that North Elementary School’s current site is not a viable option to consider due to the size of the property. Superintendent Jon Moody said that the North Elementary site sits on 2.1 acres.

Should Margaret Chase Smith School be the site for a new building, the bus garage that sits at the property, with a current footprint of about 2 acres, can be relocated to the North Elementary site.

“(This would) leave the town without any vacant buildings from a school project,” Moody said.

District officials have considered other properties in town, including the property that Margaret Chase Smith School currently sits on as well as the ballfields, a site off of U.S. Route 201 and a site off of Middle Road. MSAD 54 serves the communities of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Smithfield and Skowhegan.

So far, Moody has said at meetings that while it’s not set in stone, the site at Margaret Chase Smith School, at 40 Heselton St., would be the best site for a new school. To be able to use this site for a new school, district officials would have to work with the town to acquire land adjacent to the school, which is located in an area reserved for recreational purposes.

The property that the district owns sits on about 8 acres and adding the additional land would add another 16 to 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.

The conversion process can take up to two years, Moody has previously said. Even if the transfer of land is approved by the select board and town meeting vote, the district may still decide to move forward with a different site; having a purchase and sale agreement allows them to keep their options open.

The process for selecting architects and moving forward with the project began in early 2020 but was slowed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Stephen Blatt Architects have been working throughout the pandemic with the district’s building committee, comprised of members of the board of directors and administration.

Deficiencies at North Elementary are many, officials say. Classrooms have multiple uses. Privacy is lacking. Space is inadequate for students to rest in the principal’s 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 was created using a part of the gymnasium and has no ceiling, and it 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. The boys’ bathroom is not wheelchair accessible and there are only two bathrooms for a staff of about 41.

Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, May 19, to go over site selection and the process before a straw poll vote.

Moody said that there will be a meeting with the state Board of Education some time in June or July to go over the project and sites. Then the project moves on to education specs, which Moody said has already begun. During this step, district officials meet with staff to discuss what they think the new building should include. Following this, community members will have an opportunity to weigh in; Moody estimates this to happen over the summer.

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