Brunswick board picks site for new elementary school

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board on Wednesday unanimously picked the site of the former Jordan Acres Elementary School for a new elementary school.

The board has much work ahead in determining the size and design of a new elementary school, but Wednesday’s decision is a major step forward in a process that has been debated and deliberated for nearly three months.

“That’s one piece of the puzzle that’s been missing,” board Chairwoman Michele Joyce said ahead of the vote. “… If we’re going to continue having discussions about this happening, we need to know that’s the site.”

Calling the Jordan Avenue property a “no-brainer,” board member Jim Grant said a recent study indicated traffic won’t be an issue.

“It’s pretty much the only site that’s available to us,” he said.

With a site now chosen, a preliminary cost estimate for building the new school is expected soon from Portland-based PDT Architects, according to a new schedule and time-line from its project leader, Lyndon Keck.

An earlier estimate from last year suggested it could cost $24 million.

The new time-line also shows that final cost estimates for a school that would replace the aging Coffin Elementary School are expected by August, after the completion of concept design plans and exterior studies.

The board is then expected to make a final decision sometime between September and October, after holding a series of public hearings. The project would then head to the Planning Board and, finally, the Town Council to approve a spending package for a June 2015 referendum.

In the months leading to the referendum, the School Department and board would hold a series of community and neighborhood presentations to make their case for the new school.

If a spending package is approved by voters, construction of the new elementary school is expected to be complete by fall 2017.

In the meantime, the board is expected to reach a consensus soon on a short-term solution to a projected increase in the elementary school student population that could lead to overcrowded classrooms by the 2015-2016 school year.

In February, the board was presented three options:

• Creating more mobile classrooms at Coffin for second-grade students now at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School, estimated to cost $1.2 million.

• Moving fifth-grade students from Harriet Beecher Stowe to Brunswick Junior High School, at an estimated cost of about $215,000.

• Or turning the School Department’s Central Office, the former Hawthorne Elementary School, into a “choice” K-5 school, also estimated at around $215,000.

Board member Rich Ellis, chairman of the facilities committee, said the board will hold a special meeting on the issue soon in an attempt to reach a consensus.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said he will need an answer from the board by May to begin preparing for a transition.

The board began pursuing construction of a new elementary school last year after its previous plan to renovate Coffin and the junior high school was estimated to cost $38 million and have a major impact on the property tax rate.

The board decided to prioritize a new elementary school over renovating the junior high school, because it would address Coffin’s aging facility, its long use of mobile classrooms, and a projected population growth in elementary students. 

Furthermore, the board said a new building would have a longer life span and therefore be a more worthwhile investment, since it was estimated to cost only $4 million more than the $20 million in costs associated with renovating Coffin.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.