Schools Superintendent Eric Haley updated the Waterville Board of Education on Monday on how city schools plan to spend $1.9 million from the second round of federal COVID-19 relief funds, following a previous notification they were eligible for $1.7 million in the first round.
School principals and others also updated the board on how hybrid learning is going during the coronavirus pandemic, saying that while it is a juggling act, they are proud of how students and staff members are adapting.
Some students have opted for only remote learning, while others are alternating between in-school and at-home education.
On the days they are home, students do off-site work assigned by their teachers. That work must be completed and returned to teachers the day students return to school.
The COVID-19 relief funds are reimbursed to schools after the federal government is apprised of how they will be used and the government receives purchase orders and receipts.
Haley said the $1.7 million from the first round of federal funding was targeted for many projects or purchases, including air quality improvement projects, laptops, dishwashers, materials, supplies, substitute teachers, custodians, additional buses, more hours for staff, educational technicians and food service.
Haley said the $1.9 million from the second round of funding must be spent before Dec. 31, or the schools will lose it.
“We’ve got some very exciting projects in mind,” he said.
One of the projects is an expansion of the Waterville Senior High School cafeteria, according to Haley. Walls and a ceiling are being built on top of an outdoor patio off the cafeteria, and the area will have radiant heat, which was put in place when a new boiler was installed at the school.
The same cafeteria project will be done at Waterville Junior High School, and another patio there will be poured so the school will continue to have an outdoor area, according to Haley.
“These are all because we need the social-distancing space in order to feed our students,” Haley said.
Plans also call for the Area Resource Center, developed decades ago at the high school and no longer heavily used, to be transformed into a suite with five or six offices, to be completed before Christmas.
Special education, social clinician and other offices would be in that space, which would allow for individual educational program, or IEP, meetings to be held there.
Parents and others would be able to enter the suite through its own entrance, rather than having to enter through the high school’s main entrance and walk through the school to get there. A waiting area also is planned.
Creating new spaces will allow for proper social distancing, according to Haley.
“Our ultimate goal in using this money is to help us get to full enrollment, but this won’t do that,” Haley said. “It’s working toward that.”
He said bringing all of the students back to school full time would take even more money, which the schools would have to borrow.
“Even with the between 15 and 20% of our students being fully remote, we still won’t have enough room to have their own lunch room?” board member Spencer Krigbaum asked, to which Haley said there would not be enough room for that.
Meanwhile, high school Principal Brian Laramee reported the school’s cafeteria in normal times would accommodate 133 students, but COVID-19 rules allow only 50 people in one space.
Haley said a grassy area behind the school, near the entrance to the Mid-Day Cafe, where the board met Monday night, will be turned into an outdoor performing arts deck. Fill will be brought in, the area leveled off and a wooden deck built.
Haley said he thought it would be a good use of the space, allowing guests to sit and watch events, such as one-act plays or dance performances.
The board voted Monday night to approve a plan to build an outdoor classroom. Peter Hallen, director of the Mid-Maine Technical Center, said plans call for excavation and land work to begin as soon as next week.
“It’s a significant amount of stone work,” Hallen said, adding there will be 205 feet of retaining wall, a patio and boulders around the edges.
He said school officials hoped the project would be be completed by the end of October.
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