SKOWHEGAN — School district officials have received the first look at layouts for a new building to replace North Elementary School.

The new school will be built on the property that’s home to the Margaret Chase Smith School, at 42 Heselton St.

A committee of the Maine School Administrative District 54’s Board of Directors met earlier this week to look at preliminary images of the planned building.

“What the architects have attempted to do is create a building that sits nicely in the community and doesn’t seem large and industrial, even though it will be quite a large building,” MSAD 54 Superintendent Jon Moody said.

The property is in a residential neighborhood and architects have designed a building “into the topography of the land” so that the section that faces the neighborhood is one-story high, Moody said.

“And then as you move into the building, it steps up to two stories,” he said.

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Aside from the main section of the building, which will house offices, a cafeteria, kitchen and gymnasium, grade levels will be sectioned off in wings, with older students on the second floor.

Moody said during the meeting Wednesday that the building design “focuses on giving a community-based feel by grade levels so that teachers can collaborate and work together to benefit students and so that services are never far away from students who need them.”

Although parts of the layout and design are subject to change, the plan calls for the school to enroll about 850 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade, while also being the new location for students from the “older grades” at North Elementary, Bloomfield Elementary, Margaret Chase Smith and Canaan Elementary schools.

The intention, for now, is for groundbreaking to occur sometime next year with the hope of opening the school in fall 2025. North Elementary will remain open until the new one is completed.

Designs have not been finalized and will continue to be updated as officials gather feedback from school staff. The public will have the opportunity to weigh in during hearings that will be scheduled later. A referendum vote is tentatively scheduled for late spring.

“Our intent will be to set up meetings with staff over the next few weeks to get their feedback and continue to provide the architects and engineers with that information as we work with the state to determine what can and cannot be a part of the building,” Moody said.

Officials are looking at a price tag in the range of $50 million to $60 million, which will primarily come from the state, though some components of the building will be locally funded and need voter approval. Moody expects part of an early childhood expansion program to be paid for through fundraising.

North Elementary, at 33 Jewett St., is ranked second out of 74 schools the state has deemed most in need of new or improved facilities. Several of the district’s schools — including Bloomfield Elementary, Skowhegan Area High School/Somerset Career & Technical Center and Margaret Chase Smith School — are on the state list.

The district, which serves students from Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Smithfield and Skowhegan, hired Stephen Blatt Architects in 2020 to lead the project. Once officials are through the concept design phase, the project needs Maine Department of Education approval, design and funding approval, and final funding approval.

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