FARMINGTON — The Planning Board decided Monday to walk the site of the proposed $64 million Mt. Blue Learning Center renovation/addition before giving its nod of approval for the town’s required soil erosion control and storm water management applications.
The board will meet at 9 a.m. May 24 in the school parking lot with the project architect and engineer.
Board member Tom Eastler objected to the traditional site walk, saying each member was familiar with the high school.
“I don’t see the need for this. We know the facility,” he said, while explaining paying experts to show the land already represented on maps was not in the town’s best interest.
Other members thought the usual site visit for a project this size and cost was in order and voted 4-3 to meet May 24. The applications may also be voted on at that time.
The renovation/addition is expected to take three years to build and begin in October. It will cover 226,000 square feet, architect Lyndon Keck of PDT Architects told the board. Along with renovating the school and Foster Technology Center, a two-story addition, 500-seat auditorium, music wing and cafeteria food court will be added.
Town sewer and water replace the 40-year-old sewage treatment plant and three wells used by the school.
An extended parking area with better, paved access to new sporting fields raised concerns with some members wanting to see proposed lighted islands removed from the parking lot. Others questioned the amount of parking in regard to the town’s ordinance for a building this size.
Convinced an open parking lot would make snow removal easier and less costly, the board voted 5-2 to recommend most of the islands be removed, keeping the lot wide open as it is now.
The proposed lot includes 399 parking spaces, nearly a third more than now. Five hundred is the number deemed appropriate for a building this size, according to the ordinance.
The current size of the school includes portable classrooms, bringing square footage to more than 183,000, Keck said. Figuring footage with the portables, the proposed project increases space by 23 percent while increasing parking by 33 percent, he said.
Due to lower enrollments expected over the next few years, it took a lot to get the Department of Education to fund any more parking, he told the board. The building committee also wanted to keep as much green space as possible within the 68-acre, which has several wetlands to consider. Space is tight, Keck said.
Looking at the ordinance, the board realized they have options to waive the number of parking spots required for the previously developed site.
Parking for sporting events along Whittier and Seamon roads also raised concerns, but the new fields will not be accessed as easily from Whittier Road, Keck told the board. Along with a steep slope, a fence will be erected.