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SAD 17 committee tours Madison Ave. School/district eyes space to ease OHMS overcrowding
SCHOOL TOUR — Members of the school board's Operations Committee take a look at possible gym space inside the Madison Avenue building in Oxford. Leasing the building from owner Bob Bahre has emerged as an option to ease overcrowding at OHMS and get students out of the school's aging portables.
OXFORD HILLS — District officials are considering leasing a building on Madison Avenue in Oxford to ease overcrowding at Oxford Hills Middle School.
Members of the school board's Operations Committee, along with Superintendent Rick Colpitts, OHMS Principal Troy Eastman and other district officials toured the building, owned by Bob Bahre, Tuesday evening.
The tour followed a presentation from Judy Johnson, from Harriman Architects and Engineers, which gave an overview of renovation or new construction options at OHMS.
Overcrowding at the school has been a concern for decades and keeping students in seven portable classroom buildings installed 25 years ago is becoming a health and safety concern, Colpitts told the committee, during the presentation.
"The short-term problem is we have portables that are rotting out from underneath our kids," Colpitts said.
Security at the portables, particularly in the wake of the December school massacre in Newtown, CT has also become a concern for district officials.
Moreover, Eastman said, the traffic between the portables and main building was putting wear and tear on the middle school.
In general, he said, the building was overcrowded and signs of its age were becoming apparent.
Ideally, district officials would like to build an OHMS addition or construct a new school entirely.
A project of that scope would require state funding, which could be more than a decade away.
Replacing or renovating the portables is what the district needs in the immediate short term, Colpitts told the committee, Tuesday.
Options include buying new portables for around $1 million, renovating the existing buildings for around $200,000, or temporarily housing students in Paris' Mildred Fox School for a renovation cost of at least $1.2 million.
None of those choices are ideal, Colpitts said, but renovating the Fox School is a particularly unpopular option – the high cost of renovation means the district would probably keep the building as a permanent facility, creating a host of other issues.
The prospect of leasing the Madison Avenue School received a positive reception from committee members, particularly during the walk-through Tuesday evening.
The building, located across from the Oxford Plaza shopping center, has been used by the district as a temporary facility before, most recently during the construction of Paris Elementary School.
The building has 10 classrooms, space for a library and offices and a massive, open space that could serve as a gym.
According to Colpitts, the building could house approximately 170 students and allow OHMS to eliminate the portables entirely. The portables currently have 12 classrooms, Eastman said.
"It's really a nice space," said Eastman, during the walk-through. "Even if it doesn't look like it right now."
Renovation of the building, which has torn floor tiling and holes in the walls would be needed, but Colpitts told committee members Bahre was willing to rehabilitate the building before leasing it.
Madison Avenue, however, poses more questions for the district. Colpitts said transportation, cost and use of the space needed to be considered.
The district could expand the EX-L program to the school, or house the seventh or eighth grade in it, or students could go to the school on alternating days, Colpitts suggested.
"It's just too early to see what this would look like," he told the committee.
Waterford Board Member Barry Patrie suggested operating costs associated with the building, particularly in terms of transportation, also needed to be considered.
During the tour, Eastman said that the possibility of losing a sense of unity by splitting OHMS was a concern, but at least students would be in a building, rather than portables.
The committee was also given a broad "50,000-foot view" of options for renovating OHMS or building a new school.
According to a preliminary report delivered to the committee by Johnson, from Harriman Architects, OHMS, excluding the portables and some basement space, has half the square footage a school its size should, according to Department of Education guidelines for new construction.
The majority of classrooms at the school, as well as offices and the gymnasiam are considerably smaller than state guidelines.
Johnson outlined six options for the middle school. In all three, the Shaw Wing of the school, the oldest part of the building, would be demolished.
The first option, renovating and building an addition to the school, could cost an estimated $21.5 million, constructing a new school was estimated to cost $22.6 million and renovating OHMS and Mildred Fox was estimated at almost $23 million.
Renovation, although cheaper in construction costs, often included substantial fees and other costs, Johnson said.
State aid will be necessary for any project of that magnitude and what shape the project takes would ultimately be determined by state priorities, Johnson said.