This rendering provided by Maine School Administrative District 49 shows the front of a $47 million regional elementary school that would be built in Benton if district voters give their OK. Image courtesy of CHA Architecture

FAIRFIELD — People living in Maine School Administrative District 49 in a couple of weeks are scheduled to vote on whether to approve the construction of a $47 million elementary school that would lead to some of the most consequential changes the district has seen in decades.

The district, covering the towns of Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield, has two questions on the Nov. 8 ballot, both relating to the funding of the school. The district held a public hearing on the questions Thursday when architect and project manager Kathy Cogan, with Portland-based CHA Architecture, spoke about the designs for the building.

One question on the ballot asks residents whether they will authorize bonds amounting to $45.6 million for the project, all of which would come from the Maine Department of Education.

The second question asks whether people in the district will approve the use of $1.8 million in local money to build a larger gym with additional bleacher seating for the school.

The Department of Education will only pay for a certain sized gym in an elementary school — no more than 3,400 square feet and with bleacher seating for one third of the student body, which in this case is 191 students, Cogan said. The larger gym proposed by district officials would be 5,600 square feet and have bleacher seating for 287 people — the size of an average middle school gym.

“That was something that we actually asked at a public forum. We asked people what their thoughts were on that, and it was overwhelmingly supportive of a larger gymnasium,” Cogan said.


Voters can approve the first question with state funding and reject the second question for local funding, it would mean the project would move forward with the smaller gym design. If voters reject the first question, the district has six months to introduce another referendum question and obtain voter support before the state pulls its funding, Cogan said.

Making a second push for voter support can be difficult to accomplish, and likely the project would not move forward, she said. If the district wanted funding for a new school again, it would have to reapply with the state and that probably wouldn’t happen until 2024, she said.

If the questions are approved, then construction would likely begin in January 2024. The intention would be to have the work done by December 2025.

Superintendent Roberta Hersom on Thursday made clear her thoughts on the project.

“I’m passionate about it,” she said. “I think it’s just a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The building would allow the district to consolidate several elementary schools. The district would close Fairfield Primary School, Albion Elementary School and Clinton Elementary School. Benton Elementary School would be repurposed to house students from pre-K through second grade, and the new building would hold third through sixth grade.


The new school would be located on a property adjacent to Benton Elementary School, off Neck Road in Benton. Designs include adding a turn lane to Neck Road, separate bus and parent dropoff loops, expanded parking at Benton Elementary, and the district would be able to rework the bus and parent dropoff at Benton Elementary.

There would also be a sidewalk connecting the two schools, and a sidewalk that would extend west along School Street and into the nearby neighborhood. Also proposed are sports fields behind the new school and an easily accessible outdoor classroom space.

“That’s one of those things that we learned about during the pandemic and everybody really wants to keep. All the teachers that we interviewed said that they wanted to keep that outdoor classroom access,” Cogan said.

Inside, the building would feature a performance stage that could be accessed from the gym and the cafeteria, 28 classrooms organized by grade level, tutoring spaces within classrooms, music and band rooms, a learning commons/library, a technology classroom, and more.

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