BRUNSWICK — Despite several months of discussion and planning, the School Board on Wednesday tabled a formal commitment to build a new school at the site of the shuttered Jordan Acres Elementary School.
Meanwhile, Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski revealed the School Department has been cleared by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to start a student exchange program with Chinese sister schools, although more work remains to be done.
The board’s tabling of a formal commitment to use the Jordan Acres property came after a school advocacy group, Brunswick Community United, expressed concern that the process hasn’t been sufficiently public or transparent to warrant a formal vote.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money and we feel you have to have as much community input as possible,” BCU representative Kate Kalajainen said.
Perzanoski said he brought the Jordan Aces vote to Wednesday’s meeting because he wanted to make it clear that the board has been floating the idea of building a new school at the former elementary school site since June.
Most recently, the board provided PDT Architects with feedback for building sketches of a new school at the Jordan Acres site in a November workshop.
PDT is expected to provide updated building sketches in January 2014 and cost estimates of new school construction by early March.
“I thought it was absolutely important as a board to have a formal discussion and vote on the fact that, yes you have talked to PDT about (that site),” Perzanoski said, “and that yes, you are looking at different options for that site.”
Board Chairman Jim Grant said that while Jordan Acres appears to be the only viable site for new school construction, the board will not lose anything by delaying a formal commitment to the site.
“If the community feels they want to discuss it more, then let’s discuss it more,” he said. “It’s not the type of urgency that it has to be done tonight.”
The board has been exploring the idea of a new elementary school after it learned that renovating the aging facilities at Coffin Elementary School and Brunswick Junior High School would have cost $38 million, and could have caused up to a 10 percent tax hike in the project’s first year.
Since problems at Coffin were more urgent, and preliminary estimates showed that a new school would only cost $4 million more than renovating Coffin, the board decided to focus on plans to build a new elementary school.
Earlier in the meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Greg Bartlett made a presentation on his $5,000 trip to China to meet with Brunswick High School’s sister school, Jinhua No. 1 High School.
He said while he was on the trip, he managed to sign another sister school agreement with Hangzhou No. 14 High School, which is also in the Zhejiang province.
Bartlett has previously said a sister school agreement is a “goodwill ambassadorial agreement” that that schools will communicate with each other for future educational and cultural opportunities.
This could include using online video conferencing to connect Chinese and American classrooms and the implementation of a student exchange program.
Perzanoski said Brunswick High School could begin accepting Chinese exchange students as early as fall 2014, if there is interest.
He said the School Department has been cleared by Homeland Security to start the program and now only paperwork between the schools remains.