An artist’s rendering of a proposed addition to Waterville Junior High School, off West River Road. Rendering courtesy of Garrison Consulting

WATERVILLE — The Waterville Board of Education will likely consider a financial plan at its next meeting for how to pay for a proposed $12.9 million addition to Waterville Junior High School that will be the new Albert S. Hall School for fourth and fifth graders.

That was the final word Monday after the board received an update on the latest costs from the architectural, engineering and design companies working on the addition plans.

Meanwhile, final plans for the approximately 32,000-square-foot addition were reviewed this week by the Waterville Planning Board.

The existing Albert S. Hall School on Pleasant Street is too small to accommodate requirements for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, prompting school officials to plan for building an addition for about 280 fourth and fifth graders, plus staff. The old Hall School also does not have space for an adequate playground or parking lot, according to officials.

In June 2021, officials held a public forum about a proposed junior high addition, which at the time was estimated to be 18,000 square feet in size, would cost $6.12 million and was expected to be funded with federal CARES Act money. At the time, some parents said they were concerned about putting fourth and fifth graders in the same building as junior high students. But while the new Hall School would share a gymnasium, cafeteria, music and art rooms with the junior high, it essentially would be a separate school with a separate entrance, school officials said.

Parent Amy Murphy asked Monday how the new Hall School would compare to the square footage of the existing school on Pleasant Street. Matthew Winch, principal of Garrison Consulting, the architect for the addition, said that while the 32,000-square-feet addition is smaller than the existing Hall School, there is no gymnasium, cafeteria or other such spaces being built with the addition.

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Doug Frame, special projects consultant for Waterville schools, said all the classes in the addition will be about 850 square feet, a significant increase, or about 30% larger than classrooms in the existing Hall School.

“And that’s across the board, so it’s a pretty significant change, classroom-wise,” Frame said.

Murphy also asked whether a playground is being discussed for the new school.

“The short answer is, not at this time,” Board Chairperson Joan Phillips-Sandy said.

The proposed $12.9 million cost for the addition doesn’t include a playground. Frame responded to Phillips-Sandy’s comment, saying plans for a playground are in the works.

“We can’t open the school without an appropriate playground,” he said.

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Phillips-Sandy suggested Superintendent Eric Haley and others get together to figure out how quickly they can get a financial plan to the board, as the design and build team needs to know soon. Haley said he and schools Finance Director Paula Pooler will get that information to the board at its next meeting, scheduled for May 9.

Jeff Allen, an engineer for A.E. Hodsdon Consulting Engineers, described plans for improving traffic flow in and out of the school complex at 100 West River Road, as well as plans for getting environmental permitting from the state. When the junior high was built in 1978, he said, no permitting was required from the state Department of Environmental Protection, but now a “site location for development permit” is needed.

Winch detailed the various features of the new school, which will include a front entrance, classrooms, administrative area for the school principal, social support services, guidance counselors and nurse’s room with exam room and bathroom on the first level. Also, music, art and computer rooms, as well as teacher and staff areas, bathrooms and a mechanical room would be on that level, he said. The second level would be a smaller footprint with a large open lobby extending from the first to the second level, he said. Also on the second level would be classrooms, support spaces, Title I areas, life skills space with a kitchen and bathrooms and an elevator.

The design took into account input from both Hall School staff and the superintendent’s office, according to Winch.

David Whitney, regional manager for Sheridan Corp., said the goal is to break ground on the project in the first week of August and be completed for school opening in 2023.

“It’s roughly a one-year duration — it might be 13 months,” Whitney said.

In other matters, Phillips-Sandy said the search for a new school superintendent moves forward. She heads up a search committee working with the Maine School Management Association to find a replacement for Haley, who plans to retire this year. Haley, 67, has been the superintendent in Waterville for 21 years. The Board of Education makes the final decision on superintendent hires.

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