ELLSWORTH – School Superintendent Frank Hackett has been pleading for public input on a new kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary school project for several months now, and Tuesday he finally got his wish.
Nearly 100 people turned out at a public hearing in the Ellsworth Middle School auditorium to hear plans for the new school that, if approved, would be built adjacent to the very building where they were seated.
“I’ve been a little concerned about our response to previous meetings, so I’m glad to see so many people,” Hackett said.
Rob Tillotson of Oak Point Associates, the project’s architect, outlined the current plans to construct a two-wing elementary school connected to the existing middle school.
Renovations to the middle school will be rolled into the project, Hackett said, and best of all, it will be 100 percent state-funded.
“I think it’s great what the building committee has done,” said one resident. “They found a really creative way to get needed renovations to [the middle school] funded.”
Tillotson, who was hired about one year ago to design the project, admitted that the state wasn’t sold on the site at first.
Several sites were considered within the last year, but the middle school site off Forrest Avenue ultimately was chosen because of its proximity to Ellsworth’s urban core.
Some residents, though, were concerned that the design tried to do too much with a limited space.
“It is a tight site, no doubt about it,” Tillotson said. “But we’ve worked extremely hard to get to this design.”
Other public concerns centered on traffic and safety.
A preliminary traffic study indicated that the average daily trips will almost double to the site and some residents wondered whether the access roads could sustain the increase.
Tillotson said the project will include adding another access point to the school’s backside, so that not all traffic will converge in one place.
Forrest Avenue and Pond Road, which runs in front of the school, likely will be improved as well.
Some residents offered suggestions about what could be included in the project, but Tillotson warned that because the state is funding construction, options are limited.
A public hearing will be held in March where residents can vote on the proposed site. The State Board of Education must then formally approve the site.
In May, the School Committee will hold another public hearing to vote on a concept, which then would need state approval as well.
If everything goes according to schedule, Ellsworth will hold a referendum vote June 12.