Brunswick School Board recommends new elementary school

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board on Wednesday night sent the Town Council a proposal to repair the high school and construct a new elementary school on the site of Jordan Acres Elementary School.

It is the most expensive of the options the board has discussed to address the town’s aging elementary and junior high schools, both of which fail to meet basic standards for fire safety, accessibility and hazardous materials.

Several board members on Wednesday said they felt it was the most fiscally responsible option.

The most up-to-date cost projections, presented at a March 19 public forum, put the cost of building a new elementary school, and repairing the junior high, at about $27.6 million.

Simply repairing the two schools would cost nearly $12 million; repairing the schools and adding 12 mobile units would cost more than $13 million.

Paying for the new construction would result in an about $55 in increased taxes on a Brunswick home of median value for the first three years, according to models prepared by Finance Director Julia Henze.

That cost jumps to $190 at year four, and then declines before dropping to about $120 after year 10, and then zero after 30 years.

By contrast, the other two options would result in about $120-$140 in increased property taxes in the first year, based on median home value, declining to about $100-$120 at year 10, and then zero.

Detailed tax projections can be viewed on the school board’s website, brunswick.k12.me.us/school-board.

“Although (building a new elementary school) feels like a more expensive option … I feel it’s the more fiscally responsible option,” board member Sarah Singer said.

She said not fully addressing Coffin’s and BJHS’s structural issues now would result in even more expensive options in the future.

Board member Teresa Gillis agreed. She said the work “would never cost less than it does now.”

Board Chairman Billy Thompson cast the only dissenting voice.

“I think we need to be able to afford our operations as well as our facilities,” he said. “I don’t think we can afford $30 million; I think we can afford $12 million.”

The board voted 6-1 to recommend the new construction to the town council, with Thompson opposed. Board members Janet Connors and Corinne Perreault were absent.

Some work is set to be done on the two schools before their final fate is decided.

On Monday night, the Town Council authorized bonds to cover minor repairs to Coffin Elementary and Brunswick Junior High schools. The School Department received approval to borrow about $1.5 million from Maine Municipal Bond Bank’s School Revolving Renovation Fund.

About $583,000 of that is set to be forgiven by the state. The rest will be paid off over 10 years, at 0 percent interest.

The department will use about a third of the money to improve fire sprinklers and alarms, renovate the roof, improve indoor air quality, and make bathrooms ADA-compliant at Coffin school, according to the state certificate.

The remaining funds will go to fire safety improvements, roof renovations, ADA upgrades, and hazardous material removal at BJHS.

The repairs will not make the schools fully compliant with fire, ADA, and hazardous material standards, but they will fix “the worst of the worst,” School Department Business Manager Jim Oikle told the council.

After the Wednesday school board meeting, Town Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman, who was in the audience, said the council is likely to put the question of building a new school on a November referendum.

She said she personally supported the recommendation. “I think it’s the wise financial decision,” she said.

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

Jordan Acres Elementary School at 75 Jordan Ave., Brunswick.

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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

    The Brunswick School Board should approve funds to legally hold responsible the entities that allowed Jordan Acres to be constructed in a manner leading to the structural damage. Only after our town has done their obligated due diligence, and held the parties involved financially responsible, should a new school even be considered.

    • Chris Watkinson

      I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know how realistic a desire that is… But if it’s legally possible, I heartily agree with you about legal recourse for faulty construction. Although I wasn’t there at the time, my understanding is that the construction design was specifically chosen BECAUSE it was inexpensive and inherently of lesser quality… The implication being that in order to save a few (short term) bucks, the longevity of the building was knowingly sacrificed. That sounds awfully familiar, like deja vu all over again. If that’s the case, there’s a term “caveat emptor” that would throw a wrench in any plans to litigate.

      • Chew H Bird

        I am also not a lawyer, but if a flaw in the design was the actual reason (which is the here say I have heard) is the culprit, the design firm, the engineering firm that signed off, and the contractor all must have had insurance… I think it is something that should be assertively investigated prior to committing taxpayer dollars to build a new school.

  • farmertom2

    Whether or not any money can be recovered from those who built JA is immaterial in terms of the needs of the town.

    • Chew H Bird

      The needs of the town, in addition to providing good schools and great teachers, are to not waste tens of millions of dollars to the taxpayers who comprise our population.

      • farmertom2

        Well, by a nearly complete majority, they say the town needs a new school. That’s not a waste.

        • Chew H Bird

          Of course they want a new school. The group is a special interest group…

          • Chris Watkinson

            That’s a point that I flatly refute, sorry. The language that tries to paint this as an “us vs. them” is a false dichotomy. The notion that being a parent of students in the school system is mutually exclusive to being a fiscally responsible member of the community is just incorrect. In fact, one could argue the exact opposite:

            The math is simple: $27 million now, paid over 30 years, creates a facility that won’t need significant work for 40 years on paper, but likely more. Or, $13 million now, paid over 10 years, which also happens to be right around the time the lifespan of those repairs runs out… So at that time, you either take on a similar repair bond ($13 mil plus inflation) or new construction ($27 mil plus inflation).

            Which is less expensive? $27mil of 2016 dollars, or $40mil escalated up for 2026 dollars, or $13mil added every 10 years, compounded with inflation each time?

            I’m going with Option One. I don’t want my kids (or your kids, or your neighbor’s kids if you don’t have any) to have to face this decision when they’re graduating high school and deciding if they want to stay in Brunswick.

          • Chew H Bird

            If the goal is to provide the best education possible, within the realistic financial constraints of the population of Brunswick, then all predetermined practices need to examined on an ongoing basis. Hypothetically, consider (and this is just random thinking), the possibilities if Bath, or Freeport (for example), had the capacity, plant, and staff to provide what measures to be a higher level of education for less money than Brunswick? If that were true (it isn’t), would it be in the best interest of Brunswick taxpayers (parents and non-parents alike), to consider paying tuition for a lower financial burden and a better education? Or, perhaps Brunswick might not consider such a concept and recommend spending more town money to educate Brunswick students by adopting a “competitive” posture instead of considering the overall burden?

          • farmertom2

            Yes, all elected boards are just special interest groups…

  • farmertom2

    Whether or not any money can be recovered from those who built JA is immaterial in terms of the needs of the town.