Auburn seeks input on closing two or more schools, building new schools

AUBURN — Officials will present two major school consolidation plans to the public Wednesday night, Superintendent Katy Grondin said Monday.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Under a plan being considered by the Auburn Master Facilities Committee, the East Auburn Community School on Pettengill Road would be closed. A public hearing is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 16.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

According to one plan being considered by the Auburn Master Facilities Committee, the Washburn Elementary School on Lake Auburn Avenue would be closed. A hearing seeking public input will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 16 at Auburn Hall.

Go and do

What: A public hearing on two plans for new Auburn school buildings.

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16

Where: Auburn Hall, City Council Chamber

One plan, which would retain neighborhood schools, would close the East Auburn Community School and Washburn Elementary, turn the Walton Elementary School into space for alternative programs, adult education, special education and administrative offices. Edward Little High School would get a major renovation. The Auburn Middle School would be expanded to hold sixth-graders, and a fourth prekindergarten school would be built.

The other plan would build a mega campus for all 3,600 prekindergarten to grade 12 students. It would mean finding a location, constructing buildings over the next 15 years, and closing most of Auburn's school buildings.

Either would cost millions of dollars, and could not happen without citizen approval.

The School Committee hired a consultant months ago to help the Auburn Master Facilities Committee, which has been meeting weekly, come up with the best uses and futures of Auburn school buildings.

The two plans, the neighborhood versus the comprehensive campus, had the most support from the committee, Grondin said. Committee members now want to know what Auburn residents think about the two plans before sharing their final recommendations with the School Committee next month.

When asked why the city would need to close East Auburn and Washburn schools, Grondin said both are old, small and don't meet students' needs. Neither have a gym separate from the cafeteria, appropriate art and music rooms, or enough room for pre-K, the superintendent said.

“We want to make sure every school has equality in facilities. It's a big thing for the committee to make sure the schools are equally diverse in social economics, so that one school doesn't have a 36 percent population of free and reduced lunch and another school has a 70 percent population.”

Under this plan, Auburn schools would still maintain neighborhood feelings, but schools would be consolidating, Grondin said. Keeper schools would be Sherwood Heights, Fairview and Park Avenue. A fourth prekindergarten to grade five school would be built.

Edward Little High School “would not be all new,” only getting what it needs, including an auditorium, a cafeteria, a media and science wing, Grondin said.

The Auburn Middle School would be expanded allowing room to make it a grades six to eight school. That, Grondin said, would improve the delivery of education, saying with the existing seventh- and eighth-graders everyone is coming and going.

In the comprehensive campus design, “it would mean all education would be on one site,” Grondin said. Other communities, including Falmouth and Cumberland, are moving toward comprehensive campus designs, she said.

There is room at the middle school to build such a campus, because land is available, Grondin said. With a comprehensive campus “the possibilities are endless.”

“You could have older students working with younger students. You could have a mini-farm on the site, athletic fields all at one site.” If that plan were approved, the first new school built would be a new high school. Then other buildings could be added, creating the mega campus in stages. Park Avenue Elementary, a new school, would continued to be used as it is. “It's in walking distance,” Grondin said.

A comprehensive campus would help Auburn provide more customized learning to students, and help Auburn attract state funding, Grondin said. “Any time you have a plan that's progressive, that supports opportunity for funding,” she said. Last year the high school was 16th on the state funding for construction list. “We've moved up,” Grondin said.

Projected costs for either future plan are not available.

“This is all very preliminary. This is why we want public feedback,” Grondin said. “Are people excited about a comprehensive campus?” Would people prefer the neighborhood plan, or the status quo? she asked.

The public hearing will be from 6 to 8 p.m. In the Auburn Hall in the City Council chambers.

The Auburn Master Facilities Committee will listen to comments from the public, discuss the feedback at the next meeting Nov. 17 before giving its final recommendations to the School Committee on Dec. 7.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Steve  Dosh's picture

Auburn seeks input on closing two or more schools, building new

. .11.15.11 5 pm
If the ways and means , the money , the students , and parental involvement aren't there for your community your options seem somehwat limited
What's the mayor say ? 0 O º o * oops . He's off to the Middle East
There teachers then there are educators . Here are some options : home schooling , private or charter schools
May i also suggest the original one room , red , school house for some ? U Penn , college station is out , O U T , out :)
h t h ? /s, dr. dosh and ohana http://www.thegovernorsacademy.org/

 's picture

I hope the superintendent

I hope the superintendent realizes that not everyone who wants to be able to attend tomorrow's meeting will be able to or will be able to watch it on t.v. The plans discussed in this article did not say where the current Walton students would go. Over the summer, Walton received renovations with an air quality/temperature control system. It has done wonders for my son. His asthma has been under better control this year. Walton has become a nice community school, has a separate cafeteria from its gym and has a field that gym classes can use.

If there is enough room at the middle school for a comprehensive plan, then there should be enough room for a middle/high school that includes enough land for all of the outdoor sports teams. I agree six grade should be moved to the middle school. It would alleviate overcrowding in the other schools. If a separate facility needs to be found for students with severe disabilities, perhaps it should be developed on the same grounds as the middle/high school.

Is the new pre-K to 5 school to replace the 3 community schools? This is not acceptable. Perhaps the East Auburn Community school needs to be expanded to include Washburn students.
Moving administrative offices to Walton? What happened to using Auburn Hall so all city services could be in one place?

We have known EL needed to be renovated/fixed/rebuilt for more than 10 years. Let's fix that first. I say build a comprehensive middle/high school, not a comprehensive system wide school. Auburn is too large of a district and too spread out for one campus to be the best solution for our children.

 's picture

Pre-K?

So explain to me again, why it is, that tax dollars are being spent on "Pre-K schools when public school starts at kindergarten. Seems to me the school department should be taking care of the things they are actually responsible for.

I don't think anything has

I don't think anything has changed but for several years pre-k has brought in more in federal funding than it has cost so there has been a net positive to the auburn taxpayer as a result of the federal funding structure.

I took the unpopular position of voting against expanding it two years ago because I felt that if and/or when that funding situation changes, that would be when we would see the cost and regret it. So far I have eaten crow on that position and, unless something has changed significantly that we haven't heard about, it remains a moneymaker, and I do believe in the value of the program - especially if it continues to be paid by the federal gov't.

 's picture

Information for you

Head Start has been part of the public school system since I was starting in school, Not sure where you've been for the last 30+ years.

part of the problem again

Part of the problem again is that the discussion is always focused on the ideal situation, starting from the top down rather than talking about how we can work in the right direction so that we've built something solid over time.

When you ask parents, students, faculty, and teachers what they want to have of course the first response is - brand new high school and a mega facility to maximize the education dollar.

But we're aware there is a cost and whenever the topic comes up it seems like it never starts with that as a reality. So it goes nowhere and then we all wonder why...

Jennifer Sherwood's picture

YIKES.

The high school definitely is need of help. I don't think anyone can deny that. It's just inches from making headlines much like Lisbon High did months ago regarding not meeting state/federal standards. It really does need attention, whether it be remodeling or a completely new school.

The middle school should definitely be integrated to accept 6-8th grade! What a waste of a school for only two years of a child's life - barely enough time to settle in, to just move on to the HS. PLUS, the elementary schools are PACKED. The school systems are slowly under performing (educationally), while at the same time falling apart physically.

They recently built Park Street School which has one of the worst rankings in the Auburn schools system (in terms of elementary schools!). Where are we putting our money and what is the focus of our educational values? New schools are definitely essential, but we need to make sure we are focusing on the education of the students. Nice shiny new buildings only go so far.

Overall, a "mega campus" seems a bit extreme for Auburn, considering we can't seem to get our town in control overall. It seems like this needs to be prioritized. A mega campus would be great, but is it really feasible? I can't see it. We have been over budget on just about everything...how are we possibly going to make this plan work? The plan seems very vague and with little direction on how it will actually achieve it's overall objectives.

I'd like to know more - specifics. Costs and what it will mean to me as an Auburn resident. It'd be nice, but it just doesn't seem realistic.

 's picture

Mega Campus Mega disturbing

I'm all for renovated middle, junior, and high schools. Having a big school with tons of modern facilities is important.

However I'm really not a fan of having one huge school that becomes our children's first school experience. I don't at all buy into the argument that in order to be a good school, it needs to be huge. I may be nearly 40, but I can remember far enough back to when I went to Washburn School that it comforted me to know who all the teachers were and know where everything was, and not have to walk for extended periods to get to the Gym, nurse's office, playground, or anywhere.

Not to mention that neighborhood schools are just that, part of the neighborhood. They beautify and can bring the community together. It used to be a major selling point for houses when there was a nice school nearby. What happens to property values in the rest of town when we go from "There's a great elementary school within walking distance" to "It's only a 10minute drive to the campus from here."

Then there's the isolation of the kids. I know as a child I felt a lot more in tune with my neighborhood when we could do a field trip across the street to the retirement home and do an art project with the residents and brighten up everyone's day. Strangely, as I got older and older I felt less like part of the community, as my schools got farther and farther from my home, and getting from there to anywhere became a matter of buses and logistics instead of a nice short walk.

Then there's logistics. Will it really be better for the city as a whole to have another location where dozens of buses have to be lined up twice a day and get in and out within a few minutes? Will traffic patters have to be shifted depending on where they put the school because the main road near it becomes impassable for commuters at certain times?

And not to fearmonger, but big schools are big targets. A silly juvenile fire alarm pull or bomb scare at Washburn would be disruptive, but life goes on at the other schools. Something bad happens at a mega school and you have thousands of small children concentrated in one place, and as soon as word gets out, their parents swarm, whether the problem is real or not. I know that's a slippery slope argument, but it does happen. It's not unrealistic.

I like neighborhood schools. I think most people do. I think if this is going to be a public discussion we need to focus on realistic needs and the community good, and not just on big shiny things.

%LAFONTAINE ATLAS SUPPLY CO.'s picture

Mega campus

I think a mega campus would be fantastic. However, I imagine the cost would be staggering. If they know they would have enough property by the middle school to do this, maybe they should work toward a mega campus in steps. Rather than add a forth pre-K to an existing school like Sherwood Heights, they should add it to the middle school, etc... Obviously much more work needs to be done to make this a workable plan whichever direction they decide to go.

 's picture

Do something already!!!

I grew up in Auburn, went through the Auburn School district, went to 6 different schools and never moved ONCE because Auburn kept changing its school districts. I started off at C.P. White School (k-3), then East Auburn for 4th and 5th grade, but then they redistricted us to Webster School for 6th grade (which was very shocking for us because we were so use to 1 classroom per grade, and Webster's diverse cultures and amount of kids stunned us. Well me, at least). We then got shipped to AMS for 7th and 8th grade. Walton for 9th grade. And finished off with ELHS for 10th 11th and 12th grade. Make a decision already and stop shifting and promising these kids (especailly ELHS students) a new school then leave them hanging. They have been talking about building a new HS when I was there ('93). Now my daughter goes there and IT HASN'T CHANGED. The same rugs and waterstains are STILL THERE from when I went there. I wish someone would start with a new HS and work their way down. I don't mind paying the taxes for that. And a Mega school??? Um ok. The only part I agree with in thie report is the middle school holding 6th-8th graders. A lot of other schools around the country do this.

 's picture

I hope MRS HAYES reads this

Certainly a NEW HS is needed and spending money to renovate the old one is like pouring it down the drain, but if it is only a stop gap measure then perhaps it is worth while in the short term.

Building new schools is expensive. Will the community approve? If the economy does not turn around, I doubt it. However, I believe that bringing this issue up each year would be a good idea until it receives final approval.

The middle school now has a couple of trailers outside. These need to be removed and when the new spaces for the 6th graders are built, I hope that they will disappear. Also I feel that it is important to overbuild spaces as they fill up faster than the community plans. Having an extra 3-4 classrooms is essential for that expansion.

Good idea for a Mega campus. Being sure to allow spacing for wider roads, places for snow removal, Large Cafeterias are wonderful, but need to be separate from the areas for gym and in most cases wouldn't it be cheaper to build an area large enough for two or even three gym classes to be held at the same time for students and then later in the day converted to two large basketball courts for male and female varsity students or various activities on each side of a large partion.

Spaces outside for the elementary student k-2 and 3-5 each require their own separate playground equipment. This seems like an aweful expensive addition and as students are usually good at entertaining themselves should perhaps be the last construction issue. However,
a positive and thoughtful MASTER PLAN for this campus with all the wishes for space and expansion needs to be presented to the public.
I hope that the Sun Journal would present several maps and pictures that show these plans and designs.

Can we plan on state money for help... doubtful as there are certainly more needy schools throughout the state. Cost and borrowing are the issues for bonding. Let's consider that option.

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