PARIS — Lost in Oxford Hills’ school construction debate over elementary school independence versus consolidation has been the status of Oxford Hills Middle School.

OHMS, which currently houses seventh and eighth grade students at separate locations in South Paris and Oxford, was placed on the Maine Department of Education’s priority list for replacement at the same time as West Paris’ Agnes Gray Elementary School, almost two years ago.

In theory, expanding an eventual new middle school to include sixth grade students has been overwhelmingly well-received.

However, OHMS has taken a backseat to the issues surrounding elementary schools, from Agnes Gray’s mid-year closure last winter to the future of all elementary schools in the smaller Oxford Hills communities.

Further complicating things, SAD 17’s board of directors and administration gave residents of Harrison, Hebron, Norway, Paris, Otisfield, Oxford, Waterford and West Paris two potential options to pursue.

One that would retain elementary school independence by town while building a new middle school for just seventh and eighth graders.


Katie Thompson of Great Schools Partnership explains how feedback gathered during for public forums on new school construction projects in Oxford Hills was analyzed. Pictured in foreground from left: Joe Cummings and Torrey Poland, employees of Oxford Hills Middle School. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

The second would expand middle school to three grades but lead to Harrison, Waterford and West Paris’ elementary schools being closed in favor of a new consolidated elementary school constructed in Norway.

The majority opinion from people who have participated in the process is that the option of choice is to maintain elementary schools in each town for grades pre-preK through five and build a new middle school for grades six, seven and eight.

SAD 17 hired two architectural firms, Harriman of Auburn and LaVallee Brensinger of Portland to lead projects for OHMS and Agnes Gray, respectively.

From August of 2023 until last February building construction committees for both projects met jointly before meetings were halted while SAD 17 sought out public input.

They reconvened last Thursday to assess progress, reactions and to chart out next steps.

“It was helpful to review the feedback from the community conversations related to school construction and to discuss what we learned from the people who attended the meetings,” said Superintendent Heather Manchester.  “The information gathered in our first round of community meetings will inform the next round of meetings that will occur in the fall. “


Committee volunteers agreed that progress for a new middle school should not be hindered by the larger issues facing elementary education and agreed to separate the process.

They also voiced support to adjust committee make-up to ensure each community of SAD 17 is represented.

Currently the majority of the Agnes Gray committee are residents or staff members of the school. The middle school committee is also heavily represented by employees.

“Moving forward, the committee recommends that we divide to reflect the two projects, one elementary and one middle school,” Manchester confirmed in an email statement to the Advertiser Democrat. “It would be ideal to have at least one representative from each town on each of the committees.”

Since the committees were formed more than a year ago, a few members have resigned due to other commitments. Manchester said she will request that the school board review the current committee make-up and appoint additional community and staff members to represent each community.

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