April 02, 2020

Old Town’s aging schools don’t meet today’s needs, study finds

OLD TOWN — Though the community has done a stellar job of maintaining and repairing its six public school buildings — one of which has served the community for 95 years — some schools may be nearing the end of their life spans, a study on public education here suggested.

The city’s aging schools were built at a time when fewer than half of all students completed high school, and only one in four jobs required advanced skills or training, according to the report unveiled during a public meeting Tuesday night.

The landscape of education has changed dramatically in the past decade — and is expected to continue changing. More is being demanded from all pupils, and by extension, more is demanded from school buildings.

At the elementary level, aging schools lack the facilities for such programs as art classes, special education programming and guidance counseling, which were not part of the public education scene when the city’s schools were built.

Further, most of the elementary schools lack communication systems, are not equipped for work requiring privacy and confidentiality and do not meet handicapped accessibility requirements.

A space crunch is among the most pressing problems at Old Town High School. The school has reached its capacity and enrollment is expected to increase. A third of its teachers do not have classrooms of their own and, like students, must change classes.

These observations were among the results of a comprehensive $25,000 study conducted by two Auburn-based firms commissioned by the school board.

On Tuesday, Robert Shafto of the Maine Center for Educational Services, which handled the educational aspects, and Rodney Boynton of Harriman Associates, which focused on the condition and needs of each school, summed up what they found in Old Town.

Shafto outlined some steps the community could take in the near future to resolve some of the issues identified in the report:

Consolidate all central office staff and functions into an off-site location. Administrators occupy needed space in five different buildings. Because these staff members are scattered, there is some duplication of equipment and perhaps support staff.

Examine essential and non-essential educational programs and redesign space accordingly.

Resize the high school to fit the available space by reducing the number of tuition students. While this would ease overcrowding and might preclude the need for new construction, the consultants observed, it could lead to higher per-pupil costs and reduced programming, faculty and student body diversity.

Boynton briefly summed up findings on school facilities, which he noted range from 35 to 95 years old.

“They’re essentially worn out and they need to be refinished and refurbished,” he said, launching into a to-do list that ranged from new paint to new boilers and roofs.

He outlined long-range options the community can consider as it prepares for the future:

Renovate existing schools and build needed space. Estimated cost: 16.7 million.

Consolidate the four elementary schools into one new building, renovate middle and high schools. Estimated cost: $18.4 million.

Create two elementary schools by expanding Herbert Sargent School and building a new in-town school, renovate middle and high schools. Estimated cost: $17.1 million.

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