Wednesday, December 11, 2013
AUGUSTA — Augusta Public Schools' top bosses and youngest students both might move to the Capital Area Technical Center by next fall.
The school board plans to vote Wednesday on two proposals intended to make better use of space in the district's buildings by moving the central office out of Hussey Elementary School and prekindergarten out of Gilbert Elementary School.
At-large school board member Kim Martin, who was on a committee that recommended the moves, said they would give the elementary schools more space in a way the district can afford right now, as opposed to new construction or major renovations.
"We have some fairly high student-teacher ratios in some of those classrooms, but even if we had the money to add more teachers, we don't have the space to spread those classrooms out and adjust the student-teacher ratio," Martin said.
Three of the city's four elementary schools are at or near capacity, and Hussey is overcrowded.
In fact, Hussey's sixth-grade students are attending Farrington Elementary this year, but next year Farrington won't have room for them.
The school board budgeted $100,000 to move the central office this year, but at the time they didn't have a specific plan. In a facilities analysis delivered to the school district in June, PDT Architects recommended moving the offices to CATC, freeing up space for two or three classrooms at Hussey.
CATC's enrollment has dropped along with the enrollments of area schools that send students there. Although CATC steadily draws about 10 percent to 12 percent of students from the sending schools, that pool has shrunk, leaving the building only 68 percent full.
A school board committee that reviewed the analysis has forwarded that recommendation to the full school board for a vote. The committee also recommended, in a separate proposal, relocating prekindergarten from Gilbert to CATC to free up three classrooms at Gilbert.
Superintendent James Anastasio said there's no precise cost estimate, but Director of Buildings and Grounds John Pucciarelli thinks the $100,000 budgeted will be sufficient.
If the school board approves it, the superintendent's office would move into the offices now used by CATC's administration, and the business office would move into an adjacent space that now houses a child care program operated by Southern Kennebec Child Development Corporation.
The CATC offices would move to a vacant space off the building's lobby.
CATC Director Peter Gagnon would be working in a smaller space without a window, but he said the proposal makes sense for the district because it's cost-effective.
"I think it's probably going to have a minimal effect on CATC day-to-day operations," Gagnon said. "It will be nice to have the superintendent in our building, seeing what our students do."
While the CATC offices and superintendent's office could move during the school year, Anastasio said the business office would move temporarily into Augusta City Center, not relocating to CATC until summer.
The rooms where the prekindergarten classes would move if the school board approves it are now a teachers' room, the vacant office of a former program and a laboratory for the certified nurse assistant program.
Gagnon said those spaces would be easy to convert to classrooms, or back to CATC uses, as compared to a cost-intensive shop like the ones for plumbing or automotive.
Although the pre-kindergarten students would be much younger than their neighbors on the campus shared by CATC and Cony High School, the school district also operates a tuition-based preschool called My First School at CATC.
CATC students in the early childhood education program work with the My First School children, and Martin said moving pre-kindergarten there could provide more opportunities for positive interactions between students of different ages.
PDT Architects made two other major recommendations that the school board has not considered yet. Within the next 10 years, the architects said, the district should build a 6,000-square-foot addition to Farrington to accommodate projected growth and replace Hussey, which was built in 1954 and is the oldest school in the district.
Both projects would be expensive. Hussey is No. 17 on the state's 2010-11 list of school construction priorities, but only six of the projects have been funded so far.
Susan McMillan — 621-5645