PARIS — Maine School Administrative District 17 directors and administrators attended a workshop Monday night to hear about the possible scenarios for school construction projects to replace Agnes Gray Elementary (West Paris) and Oxford Hills Middle (Paris/Oxford) schools. Presentations were made by the two firms selected to research and design new schools by Lavallee Brensinger Architects of Portland and Harriman Architecture and Design of Auburn.

There are several ways to proceed on the projects, which are closely interconnected and will determine how public education in Oxford Hills is managed for the next 50 or more years.

Agnes Gray, built in 1895 as West Paris’ original high school, was graded F on a recent facilities summary. Of SAD 17’s smaller schools, it is has the highest utility costs. Hebron Station School and Paris Elementary School earned As; Oxford Elementary earned a B; Otisfield Community, Waterford Memorial and Guy E. Rowe schools were rated in the C range; and Harrison was given a D+, although the building has the lowest energy cost per square foot in the district.

Maine School Administrative District 17 school board directors and administrators listen at a workshop on new school construction projects for West Paris and Oxford Hills Middle School. Pictured from left: West Paris Director Veronica Poland, Harrison Director Mark Heidmann, SAD 17 Student Services Director Jan Neureuther, Paris Director Christie Wessels and Cathy Bickford, former principal at Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris and current principal of Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Among the decisions that the school board needs to make about Oxford Hills’ eight elementary schools are whether: to transition sixth graders to a new OHMS; transition both fifth and sixth graders; consolidate all eight schools into one central facility; status quo of one school per community (no consolidation) and replace Agnes Gray; consolidate West Paris students to attend Paris Elementary (which would necessitate expansion of PES); or build two new elementary schools – one to serve Paris and West Paris and one to serve Harrison, Otisfield and Waterford – and continue autonomous operation of the schools in Hebron, Oxford and Norway.

The Maine Department of Education may fund almost all of new construction or none of it, depending on operational and staffing efficiencies, student education opportunities and other criteria. The towns of Oxford Hills have had a longstanding agreement that each would maintain an elementary school with no consolidation other than at the middle and high schools.

OHMS has several issues to be considered, lack of space at its north and south campuses, poor compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, security, no fire protection system, degrading structural integrity, outdated electrical systems, poor ventilation and inadequate external infrastructure. One decision has been made about the school’s future, which is that the south campus will be discontinued and all students will attend the same site.


Critical to building a new middle school is the decision whether to attach sixth grade and possibly fifth grade classes to it.

Identifying the best site to build on is also a major challenge.  To date, Harriman has considered three parcels: the current middle school North location on Pine Street in Paris, the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School grounds of Paris/Norway, or the Gouin Athletic Complex on Alpine Street in Paris. Other sites will be identified and researched.

Following the Harriman and Lavallee Brensinger presentations, Superintendent Heather Manchester asked administrators and school board directors to form breakout groups to determine what they see as the priorities to consider for SAD 17’s future needs.

The purpose of the workshop was to review options for the district’s future and create a structure to proceed. Much more work, including community forums, needs to be carried out before any decisions or plans are made.

The completed list in order of priority is: (1) pursue a grades six-eight middle school model; (2) establish equity for quality (facilities, programming, safety, resources); (3) minimize non-instructional costs (operations); (4) provide universal pre-kindergarten and pre preK programs; (5) community buy-in/understanding of plans; (6) maximize CTE pathways for all grades K-12; and (7) transportation.

Manchester will share the conclusions from the workshop with the two building construction committees, who will use them for direction to further research as the process moves forward.

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