The side portion of Waterville Junior High School shows a parking lot at the school off West River Road in Waterville. Officials plan a $6.12 million addition to the east side of the junior high — with a separate entrance — for fourth- and fifth-graders to attend, beginning next year. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

School officials in Waterville have been given the OK to move forward with building an addition to the junior high to place students in grades four and five that are currently housed at Albert S. Hall School.

The board members in attendance gave the approval to move forward with the addition on Monday after weeks of meetings and public hearings that have drawn concerns from parents. The vote for approval was 5-1, with board member Greg Bazakas voting in opposition.

Discussion on the $6.12 million addition has been a big topic that has divided some within the community as parents, teachers, city and school officials shared questions, comments and concerns at previous public hearings on the matter.

“The board is giving us a little more footprint to move ahead with contractors and supplies,” Superintendent Eric Haley said Tuesday.

The project must also seek approval from the state as well as the Waterville Planning Board.

“There are a lot of hoops to jump through but this option was approved,” Haley said. “I’m very excited about it; the potential is huge. This is game-changing as far as I’m concerned for the next 40 to 50 years.”

The proposal calls for a two-story, 18,000 square-foot addition that will be built with federal CARES Act funds that must be spent by September 2023. This funding has certain stipulations on what it can be used for, including expanding space to allow for social distancing requirements.

After an analysis was done on every single classroom space within the district, officials identified problem areas based on the district’s current enrollment. Those areas identified were George J. Mitchell School, where the kindergarten wing has been deemed “drastically undersized,” and can be addressed.

Albert S. Hall School, which has small classrooms around 672 square feet, sits on 1.2 acres and has about 43,500 square feet of space. The building was renovated in 2001. The school houses grades four and five, and is the last city school that does not have a campus, or an adequate-sized parking lot and playground.

Moving to the junior high would add more space for students while keeping the two schools separate with their own entrance.

On Monday evening, board members decided to move forward with the site at the junior high with one member, Elizabeth Bickford, being absent from the meeting.

Though certain spaces will be shared between the schools, such as the cafeteria, music room and art room, the two schools will have separate identities, officials have previously said.

In other business on Monday, the Board of Education decided to move forward and approve the proposed budget after making an adjustment prior to the vote.

Haley said Tuesday that an adjustment was made to reflect additional funding from the state, with $473,269  added on the revenue side as well as a $473,269 expenditure.

“That made our budget a total wash in terms of changing the city’s request for taxes, we added revenue but put in expenditures of the same amount,” Haley said.

The addendum shifted the budget request to $26,018,178 and was approved unanimously by the six members in attendance. Last week, the Waterville council OK’d a $46.5 million municipal and school budget for 2021.

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