A yurt for experiential education and a resiliency garden are being added to the grounds at Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — Oxford Hills School District officials will meet Oct. 12 with state education representatives to learn the next steps in replacing Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris and Oxford Hills Middle School in Paris.

Both projects were approved for state funding last month. The schools are ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, among 74 on the Maine Department of Education 2017-2018 Rating Cycle for the Major Capital School Construction Program. The approval means the state will pay the bulk of the cost.

Superintendent Heather Manchester told directors Monday evening that she and others will meet with Scott Brown, director of school construction for the Maine Department of Education. Joining her are Facilities Director Michael Manning, Chief Financial Officer Carrie Colley, School Board Chairwoman Natalie Andrews of West Paris, Operations Committee Chairman Lew Williams of Hebron and other district operations staff.

The district applied for state funding for both schools in 2017, when then-Superintendent Rick Colpitts described both as old and inefficient. The two-story West Paris school was built in the 1890s. Oxford Hills Middle School on Pine Street was originally the high school and converted in the 1970s to a middle school. Because of a lack of space, the district rents a building on Madison Avenue to house some middle school students.

Both schools have had years of water damage and are expensive to maintain and repair.

Agnes Gray has 128 students in grades prekindergarten to six; the middle school 483 students in grades and seven and eight.


The two major projects are not the only ones administrators of Maine School Administrative District 17 are working on.

Manchester told directors Monday that she, Colley, Manning and Williams have interviewed architectural firms about other renovation projects that will be paid through the state’s revolving renovation fund. The projects will support school health and safety improvements.

The architectural firms are touring schools and will provide administrators with recommendations on how to prioritize projects before making decisions and submitting applications to the state by Oct. 31.

Williams said there may be a delay in making the portable classroom  at Otisfield Community School ready because the cost to install the sprinkler system is more than budgeted. He said it may be necessary to request extra money to tie the fire suppression system into the water supply.

Originally scheduled to open this month, it’s expected to be ready by December, Williams said.

Principals Tiffany Karnes of Paris Elementary School and Cathy Bickford of Agnes Gray school shared new initiatives at their schools with the board.


Bickford has recruited about a dozen parent volunteers to create a new parent teacher organization and board members to lead it. She also said a yurt to support outdoor education will soon be constructed. Also, with a grant from the Oxford County Wellness Collaborative, the school has established a resiliency garden on school grounds.

“It is a place where kids can go calm down or talk to an adult,” she said. “It has Adirondack chairs, a swing, some flowers and birdhouses. It’s already been put into use by some students. Our counselor can also use the space.”

Karnes said fifth grade teacher Kimberly Aldridge is coordinating a Girls on the Run program and 19 girls have signed up. The program helps girls set goals, work on building perseverance and grit, and includes running a race. In addition, Paris Elementary is starting a café club that welcomes volunteers from the community to come share lunches with classes weekly. The focus is on healthy nutrition and building relationships.

State Rep. John Andrews of Paris will meet with third graders to talk about his role at the Statehouse in Augusta and how lawmakers take a proposed bill and create a new law.

In other business, Heath Poland, president of Flanders Electric, is donating $13,385 to Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris to install a new scoreboard in the gymnasium.

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