School construction still waiting for state

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The Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris has a basement cafeteria with exposed steam pipes and inadequate exits and ventilation, according to an application by School Administrative District 17 for state funding to renovate or replace the 122-year-old building.

PARIS — School officials will have to wait at least another month or two for a decision from the state Department of Education on whether funding will be available to renovate or rebuild the Oxford Hills Middle School and Agnes Gray Elementary School.

“The release of major capital construction list has been delayed yet again,” Superintendent Rick Colpitts announced to the SAD 17 Board of Directors at its April 2 meeting. “As you remember it was going to come out the first week of April, then the first week of May. Now I have heard it will be in mid June. So we will likely be in the last couple of weeks of school before we find out where we are on the list.”

The district applied in March of 2017 for the funding for the Maine Department of Education’s Major Capital School Construction Program, to alleviate a number of problems at both school buildings, ranging from inadequate space to lack of handicap accessibility.

The DOE will put the applications from 75  school districts across the state, including SAD 17, into a priority list for funding.

On March 28, the DOE said the scoring process for the Major Capital Improvement Program was close to completion for the 75 schools, including those in SAD 17, visited during the fall of 2017.  A proposed priority list will be presented to the State Board of Education at its June 13 meeting. The acceptance of that list will initiate a 30-day appeal period.

Once the State Board has taken action after the scheduled meeting date, the Major Capital Improvement Program priority list will be posted.

Problems cited

The three-story wood-frame building and its 120 students and staff at the Agnes Gray Elementary School on Main Street was built in 1895 with additions in 1910, 1923 and 1939.  The school is one of the oldest in the district.

Among the Agnes Gray Elementary School building deficiencies are:

• below-ground cafeteria, art/music, guidance, teacher workroom and kitchen;

• lack of classroom space;

• inadequate exits from all three floors;

• lack of handicap accessibility throughout;

• lack of administrative, office and nursing space;

• persistent issues of moisture and mold;

• uneven risers on stairs, and rails that are lower than code permits; and

• a sprinkler system that is 78 years old.

As a result of overcrowding, the district reopened the nearby Legion Memorial School at 20 Kingsbury St. at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.

At the Oxford Hills Middle School, in Paris,  overcrowding is also an issue.

The site was originally home to Paris High School, which was built in 1954. With an addition and renovations, it eventually became  the middle school.

School officials say a long-term goal has been to include sixth-graders from the district’s eight towns, but there’s not even enough space for the two grades already there.

Portable classrooms were added in 2012 but were removed because of mold. Since that time,  some seventh- and eighth-grade students are being housed at a leased building on Madison Avenue in Oxford, two miles away. That set-up has worked for several years, but is not considered a viable long-term solution by school officials.

Problems at the Paris campus include:

• overcrowding that splits students between two campuses;

• no lab facilities for seventh-grade programs;

• lack of general classroom space

• insufficient electrical wiring and technology throughout the general classrooms;

• no usable stage;

• an art room under the gymnasium, which generates high levels of noise and distractions;

• an undersized kitchen with inadequate ventilation and lack of air conditioning; and

• little roof insulation and no insulated glass.

This is the third time the district has attempted to get funding for the middle school. Officials applied in 2001-02 and again in 2o10-11. The last time it was ranked 26 out of 71 projects. Business Manager Cathy Coffey said the projects typically need to be in the top three on the priority list to receive funding.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net