Sumner Memorial High School in Sullivan is slated for replacement. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHERYL CLEGG

New Sumner High School could ease overcrowding

SULLIVAN — Replacing Sumner Memorial High School would be cheaper than renovating it and enrolling middle-schoolers at the new school could relieve district-wide overcrowding.

Those were two key takeaways from reports done by a Portland-based architecture firm about building a new high school in Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24). District officials received the reports Nov. 21.

The age of Sumner’s existing wood-frame building means any rebuilding would be essentially from the ground up, one report concluded.

The other report found overcrowding at the district’s elementary and middle schools, and concluded that officials should consider sending middle school students to the new high school when it is built.

The reports were conducted following conversations between the architecture firm, RSU 24 and the Maine Department of Education. The findings will be used to guide future decisions about buildings in the district.

The whole Sumner building would have to be brought up to code if construction teams were to renovate it, according to Lyndon Keck, a principal at PDT Architects, the firm that wrote the reports. He told RSU 24 building committee members during a meeting that the age of the building was a major factor.

“If you were going to renovate that building, you’d have to remove the concrete slabs, and to do that, you’d have to remove all the walls,” Keck said. “And if you remove all the walls, you’d have nothing left … it would be incredibly expensive.”

As for the overcrowding issue, PDT found that Ella Lewis School in Steuben, Cave Hill School in Eastbrook and Mountain View School in Sullivan are all serving more students than their spaces allow for effective learning.

Between the district’s four elementary schools, Keck said in an interview, there’s a shortage of nearly 30,000 square feet. PDT used a mix of Maine state standards, national best practices and comparisons to similarly sized schools to run their numbers.

“The study concludes that the cheapest and most logical solution to space deficiency is to reassign students to other schools,” the report’s authors wrote. “The most obvious reassignment is to consider removing the 6th, 7th and 8th grade middle school population from each of the schools and consolidating them into a single facility.”

Michael Eastman, RSU 24’s superintendent, said in an interview that he’d noticed space was tight at some of the elementary schools. He said the reports are simply a reference, though, and do not mean that the school already has a plan in place for the middle school students.

“No decision has been made and the last thing we want is for any of our schools to go into panic mode,” Eastman said. “We are very interested in what our communities have to say.”

Eastman said there would be conversations with parents, administrators, staff, DOE officials and students leading up to any decisions on the issue.

PDT visited RSU 24’s four elementary schools in August. They found Ella Lewis would need to expand its square footage by 47 percent to accommodate its students. Mountain View would need to expand by 18 percent, and Cave Hill would need to expand by 36 percent.

Keck said that the schools have portable spaces that are not included in these numbers, because they are not permanent. The study was only looking at permanent space offered to students.

RSU 24 officials have four choices, he said, in addressing the overcrowding issue.

First, they could put additions onto each school, which he said “would be the most expensive solution.” Second, they could shuffle students between the existing schools to fix the student-space ratio. Third, they could leave the schools as they are now, and use portable space permanently to handle students.

Lastly, Keck said the middle school students could be sent to a new school. If that was part of the new high school, he said, it would become the cheapest option because the two facilities would share space and resources like locker rooms and kitchens.

“I think the cheapest choice would be to add them to the new high school,” he said.

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.