Meeting tonight

What to do with Camden-Rockport Middle School: Tear down, renovate, rebuild?

Wed, 01/29/2014 - 8:45am

    CAMDEN — Ideas are popping for the future of the Camden-Rockport Middle School complex, a series of buildings of varying vintage that have been stitched together over the past century. With no holds barred, there have been discussions about tearing down some of it, or even all of it. And, there have been discussions about saving some of it, or all of it.

    This evening, Jan. 29, architects with the Portsmouth, N.H.-based Oak Point Associates will present three concept plans to the public, and invite opinions.

    The purpose of the meeting is to help shape, “what the public would want as a community resource,” said Maria Libby, School Administrative District 28 assistant superintendent.

    “We very much want the public to be engaged, not just parents,” she said.

    The meeting takes place at the middle school cafeteria, on Knowlton Street in Camden, from 6 to 8 p.m. There, the architects are to present their plans. Childcare will be available.

    Voters in Camden and Rockport approved spending $125,000 last June at annual town meeting on architectural services for the middle school.

    Building history

    The original structure, the Mary E. Taylor Elementary School, was constructed in 1925. It is a 28,200 square-foot three-story (plus a fourth-story penthouse) academic facility.

    In 1950, a 15,900 square-foot two-story building was constructed. This facility was constructed as a stand-alone building with a gymnasium and stage on the ground level, with locker rooms and a boiler room on the below grade level. It is located to the north of the MET building. This section is currently referred to as the Gym.

    In 1955, a 16,200 square-foot section was added north of and connected to the gymnasium. This facility contains several classrooms and science labs. It is currently referred to as the Seventh Grade wing.

    In 1962, a 13,600 square-foot stand-alone building was constructed. It is located between the MET building and the gymnasium. It contains a cafeteria and kitchen, a library, main administrative offices, and other instructional spaces. This is the Andrews Wing.

    In 1965, a 5,400 square-foot wing was connected to the west side of the 1955 section. This facility contains five classrooms and a consumer science classroom. This section is currently referred to as to as the 1965 Wing (Freshman or K-wing).

    In 1980, a 20,400 square-foot section was connected to the west side of the gym and the Seventh Grade wing.

    This space has a wrestling room, classroom spaces, a courtyard, and support spaces. A portion of this facility is below sloping grade (on the same level as the lower level of the 1950 gym containing approximately 3,600 square-foot providing space for a mini theater and music room.

    This space is currently referred to as the Eighth Grade wing.

    In 2000, four major projects were completed: A 1,000 square-foot covered enclosure was constructed to connect the MET School and the Andrews Wing.

    A second 2,400 square-foot connector between the Andrews Wing and the gymnasium was constructed, creating another continuous covered space.

    An elevator was installed in this connector, rising to the gym floor level; and locker rooms originally in the basement level were converted to storage spaces and replaced by new locker rooms on the gym floor level in the space originally occupied by the stage.

    This meeting follows a survey of the buildings and grounds last summer and fall, and a subsequent Oct. 24 community meeting.

    “Please plan to attend,” school leaders said, in a flyer distributed last week. “This important meeting will help set the direction for all subsequent renovation design work.”

    A subcommittee of the Camden-Rockport School Board’s facilities committee has been working with Oak Point Associates as various ideas have been floated. The core discussion has been determining how best to accommodate future enrollments, the need for administrative offices and the community expectations.

    That planning subcommittee consists of 19 staff members and community representatives.

    Since last fall, a number of concepts have been delivered to the subcommittee. No drawings have been presented with those preliminary concepts, just footprint outlines. The committee has rejected some of the concepts, and now the architects are ready to return to the community with three conceptual presentations.

    SAD 28, consisting of Camden and Rockport K-8 students, has being educating grades six through eight at the Knowlton Street complex of schools for decades. More recently, in the last decade, the fifth grade moved over to the Camden campus when Rockport Elementary School got too crowded. The MET building has been devoted to grades five and six, while the old Camden-Rockport High School was turned over to grades seven and eight when the high school population moved in 2000 to the new Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport.

    For a short stint in the last decade, SAD 28 Kindergarteners were even housed in part of the eighth grade Andrews Wing while a mold problem deemed parts of the the old Rockport Elementary School in Rockport unsuitable.

    Current enrollment at the middle school is approximately 375 students, and the 122,000 square feet complex has become too roomy.

    The school “has a lot more square footage than what we need,” said Libby. “And, we are maintaining a lot of space.”

    It is like, she said, an old Maine farmhouse, which the Camden and Rockport taxpayers have been paying a lot of money to keep it all maintained and up to code.

    What to do with the space has been an ongoing issue ever since the high school vacated downtown Camden. Structural problems have plagued the building, with costly repairs budgeted in over the years. At the same time, the district dealt with closing Rockport Elementary School, purchasing the former Montessori School on Route 90 in Rockport, greatly expanding it and moving grades Kindergarten to four to that location.

    And, the district has struggled with attempting to relocate its central business offices and the high school’s alternative program, Zenith, out of the Bus Barn — which was built to be exactly that before it was converted into offices.

    Consequently, Oak Point Associates architects have been incorporating a variety of elements into its concepts, which are shaking out in some consequential forms.

    That includes keeping the historic MET and renovating it for business offices. By dedicating it to administrative use would eliminate the need to renovate it to stricter codes associated with classroom purposes.

    Ideas also include tearing down other parts of the complex, and building a new gym/auditorium.

    Does the community want an auditorium to seat 125 or 500 people, said Libby.

    Residents of Camden and Rockport will have an opportunity to hear the initial findings of the Oak Point team, see initial drafts of potential options for Camden Rockport Middle School and to participate in discussion, the district said. 

    “The input from participants will be very important to the SAD 28 School Board and CRMS Planning Committee in determining the next steps for the planning process for the future of Camden Rockport Middle School,” the district said, in a press release issued Jan. 21.

    Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at; 207-706-6657