FAIRFIELD — Maine School Administrative District 49 is a step closer to a referendum on its new school construction project after residents this week showed overwhelming support for the site of the new building in an unofficial vote at a public meeting.

The plan would put the building near Benton Elementary School.

Kathy Cogan, one of the architects working on the project, said the vote Wednesday was 72 in support of the site and seven against.

The meeting featured a presentation by a team from CHA Architecture of Portland on the site selection process. The district will next move forward with designing the building, and aims to have the project on the ballot in November, according to officials.

The district has been working toward building a new building for years. In 2018, the Maine Department of Education released a construction priority list of 74 schools, ranking Fairfield Primary School as No. 1, Clinton Elementary School as No. 39 and Albion Elementary School as No. 58.

CHA Architecture was hired for the project and, after surveying the district schools, recommended a plan that would move kindergarten through second grade to Benton Elementary School, and third through sixth grade to a new building — a recommendation that had been accepted previously by the district’s building committee and MSAD 49 School Board.

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CHA Architecture reviewed 21 possible sites before narrowing it to a property near Benton Elementary School.

Benton Elementary School is at 68 School Drive, near where the street meets Neck Road. Immediately next to the school on Neck Road is privately owned land with several homes. On the other side of the homes, farther down Neck Road, is the property identified as the planned site of the new school.

The site is a unique shape that includes a strip of land that goes behind the homes, across a Central Maine Power Co. corridor and connects to the Benton Elementary School site. That strip of land would become a road that connects the two schools, Cogan said.

“We are working with CMP right now to get an easement that would allow us to cross between the two parcels,” Cogan said, “and have the bus loop connect between the existing Benton school and the new elementary school.”

CHA Architecture is developing a tentative layout for the property.

“The point of what we’re going through at this time, with the (state) Department of Education, is an analysis of the site to show that it can accommodate all the programming for a new school,” said Alan Kuniholm, another architect with CHA.

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A better understanding of the preliminary cost for the new building is expected as CHA moves forward with designing the school. The state Department of Education has yet to set a cost limit for the project, Cogan said, but the department generally has specific features at schools that it will or will not fund.

The state DOE, for example, does not pay for swimming pools at elementary schools, so if the district wants a pool, it would have to be locally funded, according to Cogan.

The project is to be split into two parts for voters in November: The state-funded portion and any locally funded features. It is possible voters could approve the state-funded aspects but not items that local taxpayers would cover.

At this point, Cogan said, MSAD 49 is expecting the project to be fully funded by the state.

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