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.