January 26, 2013

Winslow struggles with fate of aging, but beloved, junior high school building

Some favor moving grades 6 through 6 to expanded elementary school; others favor renovations to 1928 structure

By Ben McCanna bmccanna@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WINSLOW -- When the Winslow Junior High School building was constructed in 1928, Calvin Coolidge was president, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane and Eliot Ness was hired by the U.S. Justice Department to lead the Prohibition bureau in Chicago.

click image to enlarge

Winslow Junior High School Principal Kevin Michaud discusses the idea of closing the school, built in 1928, and building a new one attached to the elementary school.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Eighty-five years later, the aging, two-story school building is the topic of ongoing conversations in the town of 8,000 residents. The school needs roof repairs, window replacements, energy upgrades and much more. Fixing the building could cost more than $3 million and it would still be a relatively dated, cramped and inefficient facility, some say.

Among several options under review is the possibility of consolidating the junior high into Winslow Elementary School, a relatively modern facility a few blocks to the north, on Benton Avenue.

The concept, which is still in its formative stages, calls for an additional two-story wing, an expanded cafeteria, new office space and added gymnasium space. If approved, the consolidation project could cost more than $5 million. That's a substantial sum for a former mill town with declining student enrollments, but proponents say the annual cost savings from closing the junior high school building would go a long way toward paying for the project.

There are other questions, as well. What happens if you mix older and younger students? And what happens to the stately brick landmark on Danielson Street if junior high students move?

Building committee

On Thursday, the Winslow Junior High Building Committee -- a 20-member group comprising district administrators, faculty, staff, two parents of school-aged children and two town officials -- gathered in the junior high school library to hear a presentation by Portland architect Stephen Blatt.

The committee was formed late last year to examine four options for the junior high school: renovate the existing building, build a new standalone structure, consolidate into the elementary school, or consolidate into the high school. During an earlier January meeting, all but one committee member voted in a straw poll to research the elementary school option.

Blatt stood by an easel Thursday and pointed to drawings of the elementary school, with its proposed new elements set in bold lines.

Winslow Elementary School currently holds 500 students from kindergarten through fifth grade, but it's spacious enough to accommodate another 100 sixth-graders from the junior high school, Blatt said.

To consolidate the entire junior high school, the elementary school would need to be reworked to accept another 200 students from seventh and eighth grades -- a total of about 800 students in one enlarged building.

To accomplish that growth, Blatt proposes adding 20,000 square feet in five areas.

The expansion would include a new, two-story wing dedicated exclusively to seventh- and eighth-graders, which the building can readily accommodate, Blatt said. When Winslow Elementary School was constructed in the early 1990s, the floor plan allowed for a possible expansion on its north side. Currently, the building has three wings. The fourth would complete the building's symmetry and add about 13,000 square feet of classroom space.

The architect also proposes moving the main entrance farther north, into a new, 2,500-square-foot addition that would house the administrative offices. The entrance would also include enhanced security features: Anyone entering the school at midday would have to be "buzzed in" by the school secretary from behind protective glass.

Blatt proposes adding a half-gymnasium, adjacent to the existing gymnasium, for the school's youngest students. The addition would be single-level because a low ceiling is not an issue for young athletes, he said.

The cafeteria, which can currently accommodate 150 diners at a time, would be expanded with a mezzanine for an additional 50 seats.

(Continued on page 2)

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