Brunswick board, council restart school repair process

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board and Town Council met in the Coffin Elementary School cafeteria Wednesday night to discuss how to move forward after the board’s more than $12 million plan to repair Coffin and Brunswick Junior High School was rejected last month by the council.

This is about “getting on the same page,” School Board Chairman Billy Thompson said.

By the end of the three-hour meeting, the School Board decided to seek up to $2 million from the state to help pay for the most urgent repairs, and agreed it would schedule a vote at its next meeting on a schedule for a new, comprehensive project.

Both schools fail to meet basic standards for fire safety, ADA accessibility, and hazardous materials. At one point in the meeting, Facilities Director Paul Caron even informed the elected officials that there was a layer of asbestos just beneath the floor tiles under their feet.

Councilors took the opportunity to explain to board members why they had rejected the bond proposal.

“When we looked at the tax increase for the repairs,” Councilor Jane Millet said, “to me, it didn’t make sense to do that based on the fact that we’d be back in this same spot in 10 years.”

Town Finance Director Julia Henze presented projected tax impacts for multiple building scenarios involving different combinations of repairing, renovating, or rebuilding the schools.

The scenarios with the highest tax impacts involve replacing one of the schools.

School Board member Sarah Singer stressed that if they were going to move forward with a larger project involving renovations or even building a new school, they’d have to do a lot of groundwork to get residents on board.

She suggested scheduling multiple public forums for people to express their opinions on the school projects, and creating a task force with “community leaders” like the fire and police chiefs.

We need to make sure “we’ve done the work we need to pass a big bond,” she said. 

Board member Joy Prescott suggested doing a professional poll to gauge people’s “appetite” for a tax increase to fund the construction.

In the meantime, Caron presented a list of priorities that need attention regardless of whatever future plan the two bodies hammer out, including upgrading sprinkler and fire alarm systems, and removing asbestos from both schools.

The School Board authorized him to apply to the state’s revolving door renovation fund in hopes of getting a state subsidy to help with the costs. Each school could potentially receive $1 million, Caron said.

Board members and councilors also expressed a desire to maintain communication between the panels.

“I think this was a useful meeting,” Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman said. “I’m glad to all be sitting in the same room.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann

A mother and daughter sit before the joint meeting of the Town Council and School Board at Coffin Elementary Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.