The latest drawings of the new Camden-Rockport Middle School, and a virtual tour inside the building, were presented to community members Jan. 23 by Oak Point Associates President Rob Tillotson, architect Tyler G. Barter and landscape architect Allison Towne DiMatteo.

Plans for the new middle school building will be discussed this week at the Camden Planning Board public hearing Feb. 1, at 5 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room. Members of the public will have the opportunity to speak and ask questions during the hearing. Representatives of the SAD 28 school board and Oak Point Associates will present information and answer questions from planning board members and members of the public.

Community meeting

Samples of exterior building materials were displayed, showing actual colors and finishes. Barter said Oak Point has worked closely on the design with the school board's building committee over the past eight months. He said that exterior colors and materials have been simplified based on reviews at building committee meetings. Tillotson said that a lot of changes to the exterior have been made since the committee's last meeting. He called the drawings "true renderings," indicating they were near final, yet not in stone.

The audience of about 30 people included SAD 28 school officials and board members and took place in the cafeteria of the Camden-Rockport Middle School on Knowlton Street.

Will Gartley, chair of the CRMS Building Committee, welcomed members of the public to attend the meetings or view them via livestream. The committee meets monthly in the Washington Street Conference Room in Camden. The next meeting is Feb. 5, at 6 p.m.

Community members asked questions about the location of the middle school building on the Knowlton Street lot, plans to use alternative energy sources, screening around the building, whether traffic would continue to back up on Knowlton Street at the beginning and end of the school day, access for fire trucks, and the construction schedule.

Taking turns, Tillotson, Barter and DiMatteo explained that the location of the building would be set back about 100 feet from Knowlton Street, and that the side and back of the building faces a natural buffer of existing trees, a ravine and the Megunticook River. The school building will not be closer to Washington Street than it is now. DiMatteo said that as many as possible of the existing trees on the property would be maintained, including the trees in front of the Mary E. Taylor building. Any canopy trees that have to be removed due to the construction will be replaced one for one, she said. About 12 trees will be removed for the construction of the new building and will be replaced in the shoreland area behind the building. Trees will be planted to buffer the parking lot from Knowlton Street, and other areas, she said. DiMatteo said that some of the trees that will be removed are in poor condition.

Tillotson said there is an opportunity for the use of solar energy. He emphasized the benefits of natural light for the school's students, and said the building has the perfect orientation for use of direct daylight. Oak Point is discussing ways to produce heating in connection with the nearby wastewater treatment plant.

School  Superintendent Maria Libby responded to questions about the new bus loop and backed-up traffic on Knowlton Street. She explained that where the current school does not have a bus loop, four buses will pull up to the front of the school, turn their red lights on for five minutes, and cars with parents who pick up students will back up behind them, all the way up the street, and sometimes onto Washington Street.

The new bus loop has room for seven buses, which should alleviate the problem, according to Libby. Based on the current bus schedule, eight buses serve the middle school, but arrive in two shifts, so that only four buses are onsite at any time. The new parent drop-off/pick-up area will be larger than it is now, she said. If the parent loop is full, there will be room for cars alongside the street, she said, without blocking the road. The bus loop is wide enough for one bus to pass another inside the loop, according to the architects.

The Camden Fire Department asked Oak Point for access to both sides of the three-story classroom wing in the back of the building, according to the architects. Fire trucks will have access to the classroom wing through the service entrance drive on the north side of the building. The trucks will be able to drive around the back of the building to the south side of the classroom wing on asphalt pavement that is part of a playground area.

Oak Point plans to send the construction project to bid mid-to-late March, with construction to begin in late spring, just prior to the end of the school year. The plan is for the building to open to students in 2020.

Planning board review process

The Planning Board began site plan review of the new middle school project Jan. 11 and continued the review Jan. 18.  On Jan. 11, the plans submitted for site work, construction, storm water management, and other project components were reviewed for completeness.

On Jan. 18, planning board members discussed the technical capacity of Oak Point Associates and the developer, SAD 28, to complete the project. The board voted to confirm that requirements to prove technical capacity, as specified by town ordinances, were met by the information provided.

Planning board members discussed current traffic problems on Knowlton Street at the beginning and end of the school day, when school buses and parents pick up and drop off students, and whether the plans for the new middle school will alleviate those problems.

Board members agreed that they need more information from SAD 28 and Oak Point regarding parking, the planned bus loop and the parent drop-off loop. They indicated that discussion will continue on Feb. 1 regarding traffic on Knowlton Street at the beginning and end of the school day, and whether plans for the new school will address, or worsen, the issues.

On Feb. 1, planning board members will continue their site plan review. The public hearing is part of the town's site plan  review process. Planning board members will have the opportunity to vote on the plan, or to continue the review if they decide more information is needed from the SAD 28 school board and project representatives.