The side portion of Waterville Junior High School is shown Monday with a parking lot at the school off West River Road in Waterville. Officials are considering a $6.12 million addition to junior high for fourth-and fifth-graders to attend starting next year. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — The public will have a chance next week to give input and ask questions about a plan to build a $6.12 million addition to the Waterville Junior High School that would house Albert S. Hall School students starting next year.

Superintendent Eric Haley organized the public forum for Thursday, July 1, at the request of some parents who have asked questions and expressed concerns about the plan, which is designed to provide students more space, both inside and outside of the school. The forum will be at 6 p.m. in Trask Auditorium at Waterville Senior High School and will be livestreamed via a link on the schools’ website.

Haley said Thursday in a phone interview that those attending must wear masks and practice social distancing.

“This is an opportunity for parents and other concerned citizens to give their input regarding the significant changes to facilities in Waterville Public Schools,” he said. “I encourage people to participate because the more divergent the ideas, the better solutions we can come up with.”

Carrie LeVan and Luke Brooks-Shesler are among those parents who expressed concerns recently about placing fourth-and fifth-graders with older students at the junior high off West River Road. They say building an addition to George J. Mitchell School, which houses children in kindergarten through grade three, may be more appropriate. Haley said that while he would like to see elementary school students grouped together, school officials had initially dismissed the idea of building an addition to the Mitchell School on Drummond Avenue because there is inadequate space there.

Brooks-Shelser said Thursday that he is pleased a public forum has been set.

“I think it’s great for everybody to get together — I think it’s great to have an open and transparent process,” Brooks-Shelser said. “I think, at least for myself, I would feel better knowing full information and making a decision based on that. Whatever the consensus is or what people agree upon is going to be fine with me. I just really appreciate going through that process and making an informed decision.”

LeVan said Thursday that she emailed Haley to say she really appreciates that a forum is being held where everyone can listen to each other and come up with what is best for students and the district.

“We’re all on the same team,” she said.

LeVan said she wants to hear what the logic or justification is for rebuilding for the Hall School, and is glad people can ask questions and give input.

“I think it’s really awesome,” she said. “I’m excited that they are moving forward with it and I think that people will have the opportunity to hopefully get a lot more details about the project but also hear the justification for the project.”

Contacted Thursday, Joan Phillips-Sandy, chair of the Waterville Board of Education, said she invited board members to the forum, although it is not an official board meeting.

“I’m very glad we’re having this meeting to get all the facts out on the table and to address concerns,” Phillips-Sandy said. “I’m very grateful that we have some concerned members of the school community who have reached out and expressed concerns. However, I think there’s some misinformation floating around and I welcome the opportunity to clear things up.”

Haley said Thursday that some people think the land between Armory Road and the Mitchell School is owned by the school district and the addition could be built there, but actually, the city owns that property.

He and Facilities Director Doug Frame will give a presentation at the beginning of the forum to try and answer all the questions they have fielded about the proposal so far. At the end they will open it up to questions and comments, Haley said. School Finance Director Paula Pooler also will be there.

The planned addition at the junior high calls for an 18,000 square foot, two-story building that will be connected to the junior high with a walkway, but will be a separate school and the fourth and fifth graders would not mix with the older students. The name will remain as it is — the Albert S. Hall School, according to Haley. It will have its own entrance, as well as a separate driveway to the school off West River Road, with that entrance located across the road from the former Joseph’s Steakhouse.

“This way, they’re going to see a separate building, separate entrance, and it’s going to have a name on it — Albert S. Hall School,” Haley said.

The Hall School students would use the junior high cafeteria, gymnasium, art and music rooms, but not at the same time junior high students use them. That sharing of space saves the district from having to build new spaces for those purposes in the addition, according to Haley.

School officials for several years have discussed the idea of building an addition to the junior high for Hall School students. The idea became more viable recently because the schools are receiving federal CARES Act money that will fund the addition. Haley said the Hall School is the last Waterville school that does not have much parking space or land around it, and the school’s playground is small. The junior high property has space for a large playground, he said.

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