2017-05-04 / Front Page

An enthusiastic 'yes' in Sanford straw poll

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Senior Staff Writer

SANFORD — The folks who turned out for a straw poll on Wednesday regarding a plan to  expand and renovate three Sanford schools for elementary use raised their hands with enthusiasm when it was time for the vote.

The state-required straw poll is a signal to the state Board of Education that there is community support for the  $43 million state-funded plan. The next step comes May 10, when the state Board of Education votes whether to accept the concept and the price tag. A local referendum will be held on June 13 for final voter approval of the project and state funding.

Superintendent David Theoharides on Wednesday emphasized there are no local funds required for the renovation and expansion project — it is entirely funded through the state school construction process.

More than 125 people turned out for the straw poll, held at the Sanford High School cafeteria — a building that if the renovation project gets final approval — will be transformed into a grade five to eight middle school, once the new Sanford High School and Regional Technical Center  opens in the fall of 2018.

As well, the current junior high school would be renovated for use as a Pre-kindergarten to grade four school, and Margaret Chase Smith School would be doubled in size, and also accommodate grades PreK to fourth grade. Carl J. Lamb School is not part of the renovation plan, but it would also house students in grades be PreK-4. 

Under the plan, Lafayette and Willard schools would close and the Memorial Gym, now under the helm of the School Department, would be turned over to the city.

Among those turning out for the straw poll was parent Amy Gray.

“I came to listen and hear about the condition of the school buildings,” said Gray. She pointed out that Lafayette and Willard schools are old buildings and said she approves of their closure. Gray expressed some concern however, about grades five through eight being all together in one school, noting differences between fifth grade and eighth grade students.

If the current high school is renovated for a middle school, each of the grades will have it own wing, architect Lisa Sawin of Harriman Associates explained.

Sanford hit the jackpot on the school construction list several years ago, coming in second for a new high school. As well, the now-demolished Emerson School came in fourth on the list, Lafayette snagged 13th place and Willard was much further down. The state contributed $92 million for the new high school and regional technical center, with the city kicking in $10 million.

Rather than building two new, small elementary schools, the plan to renovate the current high school and junior high school and add on to Margaret Chase Smith School emerged.

“I’ve never seen a town win so much in one cycle of funding,” said Theoharides.

If the renovation and funding plan is approved, the new, expanded Margaret Chase Smith School would be designed to accommodate 517 students. It would sport a full kitchen, a cafeteria, a separate gym, outdoor playing fields, two playgrounds and more.

A new central elementary school in the current junior high school building would also hold 517 students, there would be renovations to accommodate PreK to fourth grade students, a new gym floor to replace the current floor, where the seams are separating, playgrounds and more.

A new middle school in the current high school would hold slightly more than 1,000 students and sport a fire sprinkler system — it doesn’t have one at present — a large green space where portable classrooms now exist and numerous renovations.

All of the buildings would have secure entries, be ADA and code compliant.

The projects would be phased-in.

Once the new high school is complete in the summer of 2018, work could begin to convert the current high school into the middle school, along with the addition to Margaret Chase Smith School. By the summer of 2019, the new middle school would be complete, and those in grades five through eight could move in for the fall session. Then work would commence on transforming the old junior high school to an elementary school, scheduled to be complete in the summer of 2020.

In 2019, other work on Margaret Chase Smith School, to make existing classrooms rooms larger would begin, which means students would have to be redistributed to other schools for a year while that transpires..

When finished, Sanford would have the new high school and technical center, and newly renovated buildings for three elementary schools — all accommodating the same grades and with the same programs available at each of them — and a middle school.

With the straw poll results affirmative, supporters will now focus on getting out the vote on June 13.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com.

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