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New school project expected to start in early May

CARIBOU, Maine — For over two years, a new Caribou PreK-8 school has been a concept. But it is about to begin materializing in a matter of weeks, with contractors projected to start work in early May.

RSU 39 voters in Caribou, Limestone, and Stockholm approved the $48.1 million school on Jan. 7, 2017. The Maine Department of Education is paying for the primary costs, or $45.6 million. Voters also approved $2.5 million worth of additions to the facility, allowing for expanded gym and music room space.

Members of the new Caribou PreK-8 school building committee, which consists of RSU 39 and city officials, community members, and PDT Architects, the Portland design team, met at the new RSU 39 administration building on Feb. 9 to discuss the project’s progress, approved design plans and specifications to send contractors for bidding, and touched on the next steps in the process.

During the meeting, Caribou resident Bruce Hagelstein asked about the estimated time of arrival for contractors to mobilize and start working with subcontractors.

“We still have contracts to work out,” said Alan Kuniholm, AIA LEED AP with PDT Architects, “and then they’ll start to mobilize.”

“So if you do this on the 29th of March, you’re looking at the end of April at the earliest?” Hagelstein asked.

“Yes,” Kuniholm said, “or the beginning of May. We still have abatement to do before any of the demolition can happen.”

The first building to be demolished in preparation for the new school will be the Caribou Learning Center. The building formerly housed administrators, and currently houses adult and alternative education students who will be transferred to a new building near Caribou High School. Additionally, Teague Park, Caribou Middle School, and the Sincock Administrative building will demolished. Hilltop Elementary School has been sold to a private company that plans to convert the facility into a senior living center.

The building committee also recapped recent milestones for the project, including the city planning board’s recent approval on Jan. 18.

“They were really impressed with how the RSU handled the whole project,” said RSU 39 Superintendent Tim Doak. “The land transfer, for example, we did it the right way, and we really impressed on them all the local things we’re doing.”

The land transfer stalled the project for several months in 2016 when it was in the conceptual phase, as architects deemed Teague Park on Bennett Drive to be the most suitable location for the facility after a careful study of available land in the city.

Teague Park, at the time, was restricted by the National Park Service, as it was gifted to the city by the Teague family over one century ago to be a park. RSU 39 officials had to work with the national park service to effectively relocate the park across the street, adjacent to the Recreation and Wellness Center.

Doak also told the board of his meeting with the State Board of Education Construction Subcommittee, which he also labeled a success.

Moving forward, Doak and RSU 39 officials need to meet with DOE officials on Feb. 14 to obtain final approval to move forward with the project.

RSU 39 Business Manager Mark Bouchard said the DOE’s final approval is a procedural step in the process, but he added that it’s certainly “more than a rubber stamp” and essential in applying for bonds, as banks need to see state approval before signing off.

If the state does deny approval, which both Bouchard and Doak said is not likely, RSU 39 officials would need to quickly tweak the project and bring it back for state approval.

Chelsea Lipham, an architectural designer with PDT, said via Skype during the meeting that one more meeting is required after the mid-February session.

“The [Feb. 14 meeting] approves us to go forward,” she said. “After the bids come in, I believe we have to go back to the board with our actual budget.”

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