Brunswick council OKs school air quality bond, appoints landfill panel

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BRUNSWICK — Town councilors on Monday unanimously approved borrowing $454,000 to complete renovation of the heating and ventilation systems at Brunswick Junior High School.

The council also approved a zoning ordinance that loosens restrictions on political signs, and appointed a task force to make recommendations on the possible closure of the town’s landfill.

The renovation project will outfit four sections of the school – the gym, science wing, a classroom and stairwell – with new heating and air exchange ventilation units and energy recovery generators.

The project is the final part of a four-phase air quality retrofit.

Systems still in use at the school were originally installed in the 1950s, according to a project outline provided by Seimens, the engineering firm hired by the School Department.

The gym’s heating system, for example, simply has ceiling-mounted hot-air blowing fans, Facilities Director Paul Caron told the City Council.

Including this year’s installation, the school district will have spent roughly $1.9 million on the building since 2007.

When it was brought up last month, the steep cost of the project gave some councilors pause.

Councilor Jane Millett questioned if the newly installed systems would have to be removed if the school is renovated or replaced by a new building, both options being considered by the  School Board.

Caron, at Monday’s meeting, estimated that it would be at least a decade before Brunswick is considered for state funding to build a new junior high school.

“Looking at projects coming up, I don’t see anything happening at the junior high school for some time,” Caron said. “There aren’t any renovations in sight that would have any impact on this, nothing that major.”

Considering the long wait, updating the school’s equipment is necessary, Caron said. The district intends to get to work as soon as it can begin ordering equipment, he told councilors.

Councilor John Perreault agreed that the town must invest in the school for the sake of its students.

“You hear about schools all over the state having to close down during the school year because of quality of air, quality of this, quality of that,” Perreault said. “I just really don’t want my kid coming home sick because we, as the town of Brunswick, aren’t keeping our air quality at the place it should be.”

Landfill Task Force

A new task force will have to race against the clock to come up with a recommendation for what the town should do about the Graham Road landfill, which has a record of non-compliance with state and federal environmental standards.

In a unanimous vote Monday, the Town Council established a five-member Solid Waste Task Force Committee and appointed Councilors Steve Walker, Suzan Wilson and John Perreault, and Recycling and Sustainability Committee Members Mike Wilson and Punnie Edgerton.

Town officials estimate the landfill has about 15 years of active use left, but ongoing issues with groundwater contamination and non-compliance with federal waste-water regulations have raised doubts about the feasibility of keeping it open that long.

The task force is charged with examining options, including keeping the landfill open, looking at how to fund a possible closure of the facility, and what alternative disposal options exist.

Interim Town Manager John Eldridge on Monday said any examination of closing the landfill will need to go “hand in hand” with a recommendation for other ways to dispose of solid waste.

The task force will have to move quickly to decide whether closure is the preferred option, Eldridge said, because the town may be eligible for state reimbursement for closure costs, but only has until December 2015 to apply.

Campaign signs

The council also unanimously approved an amendment to the zoning ordinance that eliminates some restrictions on the placement of political campaign signs.

The amendment removes language that prohibited the placement of political signs more than 60 days before an election and required sign removal within five days after an election.

National groups like the American Civil Liberties Union consider those rules unconstitutional and threatened to sue several Maine towns with similar restrictions during elections two years ago.

In an April memo to Town Council Chairman Benet Pols, town attorney Stephen Langsdorf agreed that time limits are a First Amendment violation.

The ordinance now permits political signs limited in size to 8 square feet to be posted on private property without time restrictions.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.

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