SAD 17 board sees Paris portable classrooms as security risk

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PARIS — SAD 17 officials hope portable classrooms at Oxford Hills Middle School will be removed soon to improve space and security for students.

“We should be moved up on the list so our kids can be safe,” school board member Buddy Coffren told fellow directors at last week’s Oxford Hills School District Board of Directors meeting.

The state Department of Education’s priority list for funding major construction projects has the Oxford Hills School District as No. 26. Only two or three projects are funded each year and money for new construction could takes years, school officials said.

“It’s not a good place to be in,” SAD 17 Business Manager Cathy Fanjoy said.

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Every class period there are 150 to 230 middle school students going into one of the 14 classrooms in seven portables in front of the school on Pine Street.

“Right now they’re not safe because they’re roaming around,” Coffren said. He is concerned about students, including his granddaughter, who move between portables and the main building each day.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts said the portables pose an added concern.

“Having students move between portables and the main building each period of the day means that students at the middle school are exposed more often to potential external threats than other district students,” he said.

School authorities had been looking at ways to eliminate the portable classrooms long before a lone gunman burst into an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last month, killing 20 first-grade students and six educators, and raising new concerns across the country about school safety.

Last October, the Board of Directors agreed to fund a study of the Oxford Hills Middle School to address overcrowding.

A feasibility study by Harriman Architects in Auburn is looking at alternatives, including adding to and renovating the school, removing portables and using alternative community-based facilities, and building a middle school.

Because the costs of replacing the portables are high, about $1 million for a lease/purchase agreement for all seven portables or between $105,000 and $350,000 in local money for renovating them, Colpitts said the renovation or replacement of the portables will remain as options but not be part of the Harriman study.

“The ideal would be to house all students in a locked school facility where external interaction could be minimized,” Colpitts said this week. “A new middle school facility would achieve this.”

Colpitts said the Operations Committee is expecting to hear from the architects on Jan. 29. The committee will tour the Middle School and the former Mildred M. Fox School on East Main Street. The latter was the former Paris elementary school and is leased to a private school.

“Hopefully, the committee will recommend some action to the board for consideration in the FY 14 budget to deal with the portables,” he said.

Meanwhile, police have reviewed at least eight of the 10 school buildings for security since the Connecticut shooting.

Director Jared Cash of Norway said he has received more calls about the school security than the school budget in the past month.

While much of the concern centers around the portable classroom buildings, Director Donald Ware of Norway said he was very impressed, but somewhat saddened by the security at the Rowe Elementary School in Norway where some 450-plus students are educated.

“It’s a sad state we’re in. It’s a fortress now but once you get inside, it’s all warm and fuzzy,” he said.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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