Building committees for AG, OHMS meet with architects

PARIS — Maine School Administrative District 17 convened its first joint building committee meeting last Thursday  at Central Office as stakeholders began the work on two of its oldest school buildings, Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris and Oxford Hills Middle School, which currently operates campuses in Paris and Oxford.

Each project has its own committee, made up of school board directors, town selectmen, educators and staff, and community members. Student representatives will also sit on the committee.

The Maine Department of Education announced a year ago that both schools had been approved for its priority list of schools eligible for replacement. Of the 74 buildings on its list, Agnes Gray was sixth and OHMS was seventh. Applications to upgrade the schools were submitted in 2017 by former Superintendent of Schools Rick Colpitts.

With the schools on the DOE priority list, construction costs that fall into its formula for necessary public education infrastructure will be largely funded by the state.

Additional needs specific to the Oxford Hills School District will be funded by its sending towns, Hebron, West Paris, Paris, Norway, Oxford, Waterord, Harrison and Otisfield.

Examples of construction elements not covered by Maine DOE would be athletic field cover (like turf) or custom auditoriums.

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July 27 was the first opportunity for educators, administrators, residents and other stakeholders to meet, but preparation has been underway since last August.

SAD 17 Superintendent Heather Manchester issued a request to the community for volunteers to sit on the building committees late last year. Members are expected to commit, as possible, to the five to six-year duration of the project.

Harriman Architecture and Design of Auburn has been selected to engineer and design the middle school and Lavallee Brensinger Architects of Portland will handle the new elementary school in West Paris.

Lisa Sawin of Harriman presented attendees on the procedures and timeline of school construction and laid out the committees’ responsibilities.

Currently, both organizations are collaborating on a district-wide study for all school buildings as required by Maine DOE.

One option under consideration for the new middle school is to transition Oxford Hills’ sixth grade students of its eight sending towns from elementary to junior high, a decision that cannot be made until the impact such a change would have on its lower school populations and needs.

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The study will also include recommendations for future use of the West Paris and Paris schools. The OHMS “south campus” campus is a leased building in Oxford, on Madison Avenue.

“This is the first step,” SAD 17’s Finance Director Carrie Colley told the Advertiser Democrat. “It includes looking at OHMS and Agnes Gray to determine if a new, or a renovation or addition is feasible. It’s a 21-step process mandated by the state. The study is the first phase.”

The planning and design process may take up to three years and includes the impact study and analysis; site review and selection; concept design, all with community input and a district-wide referendum; needs assessments according to district strategic goals and engineering plans; building and site design, state transportation and environmental agency approvals, cost estimates and budgets; state, school board and voter approval.

Preference for location is given to properties already owned by the school district but other sites will be assessed as well.

Once all planning and approval steps have been completed, Sawin told the group the construction phase for both buildings will take another two to three years.

Agnes Gray Elementary School was built in 1895 as West Paris’ high school, with additions added in 1910, 1923 and 1939. It is constructed with what are now obsolete materials, is in generally poor condition and is not Americans with Disabilities compliant.

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Oxford Hills Middle School was built in 1950 when Norway and Paris consolidated their high schools. An addition was added in the mid-1970s. When the current high school was built on Main Street in  Paris during the 1990s, the Pine Street building opened to seventh and eighth grade students of the Oxford Hills district. Overcrowding made it necessary to add the additional south campus in Oxford in 2012.

Key to the drawn-out planning process and the design of the new schools is adherence to Oxford Hill’ educational goals and culture within its four strategic pillars: healthy and resilient students; maximizing facilities to support learning; recruiting and growing talent; and rigorous, relevant and responsive learning.

The committees will generally meet once a month and are open to the public. Agendas, minutes and project news and updates will be published on SAD 17’s website.

Tours of other newly constructed schools are another important part of planning.

The next meeting is scheduled Sept. 7 from 5-6:30 p.m.

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