ELLSWORTH – Plans for a new elementary school project are rolling along behind the scenes, but now the school department wants to hear from the public about what’s best for the city.
Ellsworth school Superintendent Frank Hackett and Rob Tillotson from Oak Point Associates, who is working with the city to design the project, will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, at the superintendent’s office.
“This is a good opportunity to let the public know about the process and perhaps hear some new ideas that we can take back to the [Maine] Department of Education,” Hackett said this week.
Because the DOE is subsidizing the school project, a lengthy process is in place to identify the needs for Ellsworth. That process includes looking at existing school buildings and possible sites for a new facility.
Hackett said this week that the state already backed the idea of building a new kindergarten to fifth-grade school that would be attached to Ellsworth’s current middle school.
Under that scenario, the middle school would receive several million dollars’ worth of renovations as well.
“When we have had conversations about our needs as a school department, we realized we were hard-pressed to get approved for a new middle school,” Hackett said. “But we may have the opportunity to upgrade as part of our [elementary school] project.”
Site selection for a new elementary school has been the most difficult aspect, but there is some available land at the middle school site off Forrest Avenue.
“We’re confident we can make that site work, and it has the benefit of being close to downtown,” the superintendent said.
The city now has two elementary schools: the General Bryant E. Moore School for grades three to five and the Dr. Charles C. Knowlton School for kindergarten to grade two, both on State Street.
If a new school is built, the city likely will have to decide what to do with the existing schools. There has been some discussion that the Knowlton school would be torn down, but that the Moore school, a stately brick building close to downtown, likely would remain as an asset to the city down the road.
Jim Rier, legislative coordinator with the Maine Department of Education, said Ellsworth’s project is still a way off.
Ellsworth is ranked fourth out of 11 school districts on the DOE’s school facilities priority list that designates school construction and renovation projects to receive state funding in 2008 and 2009. Ellsworth’s project is expected to be funded in 2008.
“It’s important that they are fully vetted through the process,” he said this week. “A lot of times these committees form in local communities earlier than they should. You can’t rush these things.”