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August 13, 2003

New school coming to Baxter

From: Press Herald, ME - Aug 13, 2003

By TESS NACELEWICZ, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

FALMOUTH — Construction is about to start on a $2.3 million middle school for students at Gov. Baxter School for the Deaf. The state-of-the art school will be the first new building constructed at Maine's state school for the deaf - located on Mackworth Island - in nearly 50 years, said the architect, Nancy Barba.

School officials hope the modern new building and the education provided there will help convince more deaf and hard-of-hearing students to attend Baxter. In addition to serving 70 students from preschool to high school at the island campus, which has a residential program, Baxter also provides outreach services to more than 500 other hearing-impaired students in regular schools around the state.

The new construction is a positive development for Baxter, which has been working in recent years to rebuild its educational programs and reputation after experiencing a variety of problems. They have included frequent turnover in leadership, declining enrollment and negative publicity concerning revelations of physical and sexual abuse of students at the school in the 1960s and 1970s.

The school also had to shut down its high school program. Its 10 high school students are headed to Portland High School in September because the state says Baxter has too few high school students to offer the kind of education demanded by Maine's new school standards, called Learning Results.

However, Baxter won full approval from the state for its elementary and middle school programs, which were described as "very strong," and school officials hope the new middle school will help increase enrollment.

"It's an exciting time for us," said Baxter's superintendent Larry Taub, at an informational meeting on the new school Tuesday night.

The new middle school will be able to serve as many as 50 students, although it is expected to open in the fall of 2004 with just 10 or 12, Taub said. However, the new school also will be able to accommodate students who are deaf and blind. About 10 such students now must attend school outside the state for services.

The 10,000 square-foot building will replace the current middle school. Built in 1955, it leaks water through its windows and has asbestos in its walls, said Elaine Clark, director of the state's Bureau of General Services, which determined the building needed replacement. The middle school and the high school on campus are being torn down. Demolition is already under way.

The new school, for which the Legislature authorized funding two years ago, is designed to be so energy-efficient that it has been awarded a $91,000 grant from the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The new building will be bright and sunny. However, the windows will be positioned to eliminate glare to accommodate students who rely on American Sign Language and need to be able to clearly see their teachers and fellow students as they sign, said Barba, of Barba Architecture and Preservation in Portland.

The acoustics in the school are designed to minimize extraneous noise that can distract hard-of-hearing students who wear hearing aids or have cochlear implants.

Other amenities include a library which will be open to members of the public who want to study about deaf culture and a room for adult education.

Construction on the foundation is expected to begin in September and the school should be completed by June.

Attending the meeting was one of the residents of Andrews Avenue, the quiet residential street that leads to the causeway connecting Mackworth to the mainland. Roland Beaudoin raised concerns about traffic because he said about 10 young children live on the street.

An official with the general contractor, H.E. Callahan Construction Co. of Auburn, said as many as 50 vehicles would be traveling to the island each day at the peak of construction in February and March. However, Jeff Ohler said large trucks would be limited because the demolition debris is being kept on the island to be recycled into a parking lot. And a Falmouth police officer at the meeting said police will be vigilant about enforcing the 25 mph speed limit.

Ohler said construction would take place between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on weekdays. He said occasional minor work on weekends would involve no heavy equipment.

Copyright © Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.