Children and their families gather Thursday as part of a groundbreaking ceremony in Skowhegan to mark the start of construction on a $75 million elementary school, to be named the Margaret Chase Smith Community School. The school will consolidate several others in Maine School Administrative District 54.  Zara Norman/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — By the time they were in middle school, each of Sara Colburn Haiss’ four children had already attended four separate schools in the district.

“They started at North Elementary, then Bloomfield, Margaret Chase Smith, and then to the middle school,” Colburn Haiss, who teaches second grade at Bloomfield Elementary School, said Thursday. “It’s a lot of transitions for kids. We try to create community here, but it’s hard when they keep moving.”

There are five different elementary schools in Maine School Administrative District 54, as well as an additional preschool program offered by the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program.

Three of the elementary schools are in Skowhegan: North Elementary on Jewett Street offers pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, Bloomfield Elementary is near Skowhegan Area Middle School and houses students in grades one through three, and the Margaret Chase Smith School on Heselton Street is for grades four and five.

But administrators say a $75 million consolidated elementary school that is supposed to open its doors to students in fall 2025 will allow children to remain in one location without shuffling from one school to another every couple of years. The new school, to be named the Margaret Chase Smith Community School, will house roughly 800 area students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade in one building.

The school at 40 Heselton St. in Skowhegan will also incorporate an early childhood learning center, a food pantry, and a free clothing closet, according to MSAD 54 Superintendent Jon Moody. Many in the community turned out Thursday for a groundbreaking ceremony formally marking the start of construction on the school.


Moody, who became superintendent in 2020, said some students in the district can transition through seven different buildings by the time they graduate high school, making it difficult for students to feel a part of any one school community.

“You want them to make those connections with teachers that have been there for them, with the administration and social workers and guidance counselors that are there, and have that development,” Moody said.

The regular rotation from one school to another can be difficult for staff, too, particularly when teachers want to form a plan for students facing challenges or those with special needs, he said.

“If you’re a first grade teacher and the kindergarten teacher’s right down the hall, you can talk to them, you can plan, you can collaborate … But when you’re in a building across town, it’s very hard to do that,” Moody said.

The new school also will do much to alleviate cramped conditions.

North Elementary was built in 1952 and there’s no designated space for necessary programs for a modern school, like math and literacy interventions. Kids have been getting that instruction in the cafeteria, in office space or in hallways, Moody said.


This architectural rendering shows the $75 million consolidated elementary school that’s planned for Skowhegan. It’s scheduled to open in fall 2025. Image courtesy of Stephen Blatt Architects

Colburn Haiss said Bloomfield Elementary is “jam packed.” She has been teaching her 16 second-graders in a portable classroom.

“We’ve utilized all of the spaces that are possible to be utilized at our school,” she said.

The existing Margaret Chase Smith School on Heselton Street will be torn down in spring 2025, as it is a “good chunk” of the new site, the superintendent said. North Elementary will be torn down, too, and become the site for the school’s bus garage. Bloomfield Elementary will be repurposed for special and alternative education programming, Moody said, and possibly for the district’s technical center, too.

By 2025, Canaan Elementary School in Canaan will only house students from pre-K to second grade, at which time they will filter into the new school. Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock will run through fifth grade only, sending its students over to middle school in Skowhegan a year sooner.

Moody hopes the project will come at no expense to taxpayers. Because of the outdated condition of Skowhegan’s elementary schools, particularly North Elementary, the state has agreed to fund 94% of the project. Around $4.4 million needs to be raised locally.

A school fundraising committee working with KVCAP has already raised $2.8 million of that sum in the past year, Moody said, and hopes to reach $3 million in the next year. The district is applying for a federal earmark to cover the remaining $1.4 million, he said.


“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for educators to really change the lives of kids,” Moody said. “Otherwise, you know, we would continue to have all the transitions, and have to have really strong efforts to educate kids in substandard spaces.”

Despite Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony, construction on the new, two-story school actually began in July.

Sam Hight, chairman of the fundraising committee, said the project is just one of the positive changes to benefit the Skowhegan area. He cited New Balance’s expansion in Skowhegan, the launch of TimberHP manufacturing operations in Madison and development of the former spinning mill in Skowhegan as other examples.

“There is no power of change greater than a community discovering what it cares about,” Hight said. “And our community of leaders, doers and positive-minded citizens have clearly chosen education as a fundamental tool for social and economic growth and our future success.”

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