Committee reviews new Mallett School plan

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FARMINGTON – A revised version of the W.G. Mallett School project was presented to the building committee Wednesday night, which would let construction go forward without any new property acquisitions.

“Sometimes adversity leads to good design,” Architect Stephen Blatt told the committee, “and I think this is a good design.”

The adversity Blatt mentioned was created a month and a half ago, when the Maine Historic Preservation Commission raised concerns over the district’s desire to acquire a piece of property on Perham Street. The old Mallett School project needed that property to create a Perham Street egress for buses. This would have kept the bus route well away from the playgrounds, as well as make room for enough parking spaces.

The new plan would create a vehicle traffic route which would enter via Middle Street, curve around the west and north sides of the school, and exit onto Quebec Street. The position and layout of the school would be altered, making room for a separate, circular bus loop in front of the building which would enter and exit onto Middle. This would keep buses and passenger cars away from each other, and away from the playgrounds to the east of the building.

Planners have also looked at an alternative to the drainage pond that proposed in an earlier design. Instead of having the water go to a central point, a new proposal would place 14 specialized treatment and retention units on the site. These “StormTreat System Tanks” are 10 feet in diameter, and consist of six, segmented filtration areas which would remove contaminants before the water exits the device. The tanks would be placed in a few different parts of the site, and are covered by a padlocked dome. A ring of some wetland species of plant, such as tiger or water lilies, would encircle each device.

While the units cost $30,000 to purchase and install, Blatt said he believed they were worth the trade off. Avoiding a retaining pool in favor of the unobtrusive, perfectly safe tank devices also will save space.

“It seems to us to be a perfect, logical solution for this site,” Blatt said.

A revised interior plan for the school would move the 1st graders to the second floor, along with the 2nd and 3rd graders. Each grade would have a separate section, and four stairwells would provide access, allowing the younger children to have their own stairs. The general design would still look similar, with a single lower floor and a smaller second floor. This would make the building appear smaller and more welcoming for students.

Additionally, Blatt is now suggesting that a “green roof,” consisting of living plants, could work for the top of the first floor. This would let the inhabitants of the second floor look out over a green expanse, as well as help the building filter runoff, and cut down of the glare.

Ironically, just as a new design is being discussed, Assistant Superintendent Susan Pratt said that several local property owners had come forward after MSAD 9 requested people possibly interested in selling their land to contact the district. These include three properties on Middle Street, and five lots on Perham. However, Blatt is no longer certain extra space would be needed. Not acquiring land would of course save money, perhaps making the state Department of Education’s approval process easier. The vast majority of the project’s cost will be, if approved, borne by the state.

Blatt also worries that a dramatic change to that many properties may severely disturb the local neighborhood, well beyond the potential disruption caused by the former plan’s Perham Street egress.

“We don’t think we need these,” he said, gesturing to the map. “I think it would really rip at the fabric of the neighborhood.”

The revised plan will be presented the MSAD 9 school board on August 26. Blatt was uncertain if the DOE was still considering the site review, and that agency will take up the facility review in October. Preceding that would be a second straw vote, probably sometime in mid-September. The first straw vote, on what site the new school should be built on, resulted in the project gain overwhelming support from those present.

The entire project would likely go to a local referendum vote in November, probably after the national election. The building committee wants the project to be given all possible consideration as a single issue, and is also eager to not tie it to the school district consolidation vote. If the project is approved, the vast majority of all money spent previously, on architect fees and engineering studies, and throughout the construction process will be borne by the state.

If approved by the DOE and public, the new school could open in September 2010.

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