FAIRFIELD — District officials this week shared the latest updates on a new school construction project, including receiving site approval and pre-concept designs.
The Maine School Administrative District 49, which serves Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield, held a meeting Wednesday to update residents on the status of the ongoing project to build a new elementary school.
The district plans to close Albion Elementary School, Clinton Elementary School and Fairfield Primary School, and move all prekindergarten through second grade students into Benton Elementary School, and have third through sixth grade in the new school building.
The district has gotten site approval for the property on Neck Road in Benton, adjacent to Benton Elementary School at 68 School Drive, from the Maine State Board of Education, said Superintendent Roberta Hersom. And the district has begun to design the layout of the property and the interior of the building, said project manager Kathy Cogan.
There is some private property between the Benton Elementary School property and the new school location, so current plans have the new building located farther back on the property, away from the road. There will be a drive off of Neck Road to access the building, and a second road that would go behind the private property to connect to the existing school property.
There are Central Maine Power Co. lines there, and the district is working to get an easement for that connecting road.
As part of the project the district plans to rework traffic circulation at Benton Elementary School, because currently the parent drop-off area gets quite congested.
The new school property will also feature several sports fields, likely set behind the school building, and an outdoor classroom setup near the classroom wings.
Inside the building, the administration area will be set near the front doors, to allow clear visibility of approaching visitors. Also near the front will be the cafeteria, gymnasium and music rooms. Officials wanted to keep those spaces near the front of the building, Cogan said, so that they can potentially be used by the public outside of school hours, while keeping the classroom areas locked.
The classrooms will be grouped by grade level, and divided into a pair of two-floor wings of the building. The classrooms will also include enclosed tutoring spaces — which were requested by staff — to help kids get individual attention without fully removing them from the class, Cogan said.
Cogan also asked attendees of the meeting if they would be interested in expanding the gym at the new school at the district’s expense, which the majority in attendance were.
The Department of Education will only support a gym that is 3,400 square feet, with bleachers for 191 people and sport flooring — not a wood floor. The building committee has expressed interest in getting a bigger gym, Cogan said. The district could instead build an average middle school gym, which would be 5,600 square feet, bleacher seating for 300 and wood floors.
The state will fund the cost of the smaller gym, any additional costs of the larger gym would be paid by the district. The cost would probably be around $1 million, Cogan said. The larger space could then be used for sports games and other community business.
The next steps include a straw poll on the concept design in September, a public hearing in October and then the referendum vote on the project in November, Cogan said.