FARMINGTON – The new Mallett School building project plan unveiled last night doesn’t involve property acquisitions for a bus access road, although that idea wasn’t ruled out altogether.
The last plan was squashed by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission after concerns were expressed over razing a century-old Perham Street house in order to make way for an access road for buses.
Architect Stephen Blatt’s latest plan offers a bus loop off of Middle Street and a separate, one-way entrance for vehicles parking at the school. The one-way road would also enter off of Middle Street near the property line to the west and provides for 93 parking spaces along the road to the north side of the property, turns right around the building and runs across the northern boundary of the school property to exit onto Quebec Street.
“We tried to deal with the conundrum that we can’t go out on Perham Street, but still meet the parking requirement,” Blatt told the committee.
The building planning committee had wanted to keep traffic away from the playing fields, which this option allows. David Leavitt, MSAD 9’s director of support services which oversees the district’s transportation department, had concerns.
“I don’t like the vehicles going around the back of the building,” Leavitt said.
“The one-way traffic circulation is the clearest and the cleanest,” Blatt said. Committee members who are teachers at Mallett said they like the staff parking at the back of the building. Others liked the new green space at the entrance to the school that was created by having a bus loop that is shaped like a lollipop.
The new traffic configuration would alter the 44,600 square foot building footprint from the original plans. Instead of the “U” shape, the building’s one-story east wing would be elongated in order for the west wing to shrink, giving the access road and parking areas the space it needs.
The service road feeding out onto Quebec Street required the 5,000 square foot storm water management pond to move further south from the northeast corner of the school lot and closer to the playing fields. The pond, created to hold the excess water at the site known for its poor drainage, would be surrounded by a retaining wall and a fence.
The idea of finding another access road exit onto Perham Street may still be a possibility if one of the building’s owners, outside of the historic district designation and objection by state preservationists, is willing to sell their property.
“It would be good to look at Perham Street again for an exit,” Leavitt said. Two property owners on Middle Street that borders the school property were interested in selling, but committee members nixed the idea of breaking up the neighborhood with what would probably be a parking lot.
Still to be resolved is an agreement with the University of Maine at Farmington and its parking lot.
“We’re trying to reach an agreement,” Assistant Superintendent Susan Pratt said.
Currently, a 147-space parking lot, which was constructed at great expense by the university in exchange for a 10-year lease with MSAD 9, abuts the existing Mallett School property. In order to keep Mallett on its campus that parking lot will need to be given to the school district. MSAD 9 and UMF are currently in negotiations for that property, but the university is concerned that its existing facilities have access to the parking they need. Twenty spaces in the Mallett proposal have been designated for the use of UMF’s Black Hall residents.
There are also UMF parking needs for facilities not constructed yet.
At its last meeting, the Farmington planning board gave conditional approval for UMF to use 25 spaces at Mallett School after 3 p.m. for UMF’s proposed performing arts center. According to Code Enforcement Officer Steve Kaiser, the 100-seat performing arts center to be located between Merrill Hall and the Alumni Theater and has yet to appear before the planning board, requires 25 parking spaces to be approved.
A formal agreement with MSAD 9 also needs to be drawn up with the Child Development Center and Tri-County Mental Health Services for access to 10 parking spaces to be dedicated for its staff and clients. Both formal agreements with Tri-County and UMF and the attempt to acquire another Perham Street property need to be completed in a relatively short time.
If all goes according to plan, site and concept approval by the state Department of Education, the town’s planning board and MSAD 9 board, will be sought in September. A possible referendum vote could be held in mid-October or it might join the Nov. 4 ballot. If approved by all, construction would start next summer for a summer 2010 completion date.