Brunswick School Board eyes plan for new school, 3.6% budget increase

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board in a pair of meetings Wednesday moved forward on two items that will have significant costs for the town: the plan for a new elementary school and the proposed 2016-2017 budget.

A new elementary school at Jordan Acres and repairs to the junior high school are projected to cost about $30 million, and will be put to voters in November. The proposed fiscal 2017 school budget is just under $38 million, about a 3.6 percent increase over this year.

The first meeting was workshop-style and untelevised, with board members sitting in the audience at the Coffin Elementary cafeteria with principals, teachers, and about 10 members of the public as Lyndon Keck, lead archtect from Portland Design Team, presented designs for a new school.

Keck had drawings of two variations of a base plan for a 660-student elementary school at the site of the former Jordan Acres school. The School Board endorsed that proposal at its March 23 meeting.

In the time since, PDT has drafted some alternative designs for the two-story building, to address questions that were raised at a January public forum about configuring grades within the school.

Keck said his firm drew up plans to allow “maximum flexibility” in the future. He said that dividing classrooms into two second-floor wings could create two separate smaller “learning communities,” or “schools within schools.”

A future board could be flexible with grade configurations in those smaller learning communities, he said.

Board member Sarah Singer supported the design choice.

“Some (residents) want to see all grade levels together,” she said, while “some people want a K-2, and some people want a K-5.”

“If we could have a facility that has maximum flexibility … it would (improve) our long-term ability to use the school in different ways,” she said. “A lot of ideas about education have to evolve and change.”

Keck said the more flexible second-floor plan would add about $300,000-$400,000 to the estimated $24.5 million it would cost to build the school.

In a straw poll, the handful of residents in attendance who were not members of the board or School Department employees said they favored the more flexible design.

“If we’re going to spend the money, we might as well spend the money,” said Erin Dimbley, a parent who moved to Brunswick five years ago. “And I think we have to spend the money.”

Workshop attendees, however, still had questions and concerns about Keck’s plans.

Town Councilor Alison Harris asked if there would be any space available for community or neighborhood organizations.

Keck said while the new school would not have a designated community room, like Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary, the gymnasium and administrative space could be available outside of regular school hours.

One parent noted that with a projected influx of families coming for new jobs announced by companies like SaviLinx and Wayfair, the 660-student capacity may not be enough.

Several parents and kindergarten teachers argued that a “discovery room,” which Harriet Beecher Stowe uses for science experiments, should be considered in the new plan. The current designs do not include one.

Keck said his team would work to finalize more details and map out accurate cost projections on the new iteration.

Budget

About two hours later, in council chambers, board members unanimously voted to send the  budget proposal to the Town Council.

The nearly $38 million budget is a 3.6 percent increase over this year, with the major drivers being increased facilities maintenance spending, health-care costs, staff salaries, and a new full-time social worker position, according to Superintendent Paul Perzanoski.

The budget, if passed, would require a 2.67 percent property tax increase.

The council will hold a workshop on the school budget April 28 at 6 p.m.

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

School board member Sarah Singer shows plans for a new elementary school to her son, Gifford, 2, at Coffin Elementary School April 13.

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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.
  • Chew H Bird

    Absolutely not. Taxes go up every year in Brunswick. Jordan Acres failed due to structural issues and Brunswick’s failure to remedy it. The largest portion of the annual school budget is salaries and benefits and the largest portion of debt is building new buildings due to short term design and failure to maintain the structures.

    Brunswick has a spending problem and it needs to stop.

  • farmertom2

    This sounds like a very solid plan. The modest extra needed to ensure the flexibility of the space would be well worth it– if we have seen anything in the last ten years it is the need for greater, rather than less, flexibility. The increase in budget and taxes is lower than I expected.