Brunswick School Board rejects proposal for bus garage

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to convert the former Times Record building on Industry Road into a combined bus garage and office space.

The vote came in a special meeting Wednesday about school facilities, where the board learned the cost to renovate the building, which is empty and owned by the town, would be $2.1 million.

The meeting was the first time board members and the public got a glimpse of draft findings by the Auburn-based architecture firm Harriman Associates, which the School Department paid $128,000 to study school facilities.

Jeff Larimer, a senior architect with the firm, presented the board with nine options for how to efficiently utilize and/or renovate Jordan Acres, Coffin, Hawthorne and Harriet Beecher Stowe elementary schools.

The first option called for keeping grades 3-5 at HBS, renovating Jordan Acres for kindergarten through second grade, and adding second-graders to Coffin. A variation on that option would put some first- through fifth-graders back into Hawthorne School, which now has school administrative offices, as part of a parental school choice program that has yet to be discussed at the board level.

Depending on whether Jordan Acres is completely renovated or minimally modified, the cost of that plan ranged from $11.3 to $13.7 million.

A second option would be to put all the kindergarten classes at Jordan Acres, use Coffin for grades 1 and 2, and keep grades 3-5 at HBS. Again, Hawthorne could be used as a choice option for grades 1-5. Costs of that plan range from $10.8 million to $13.7 million.

No matter what, Facilities Director Paul Caron pointed out, it will cost an estimated $2.6 million to bring Jordan Acres back into compliance with building codes.

Harriman’s final option is to keep Jordan Acres closed and divide the town’s elementary school students between Coffin and HBS, which would both hold close to 600 students. That option would require expanding Coffin to accommodate more students, but at an estimated $8.3 million would be significantly cheaper than the first two options.

As in the first two options, Hawthorne could be used as for grades 1-5, reducing the student populations at the other two schools.

HBS now has about 660 students in grades 2-5. All the town’s kindergarten students and first-graders attend Coffin. Last year, the board voted to temporarily close Jordan Acres to save money.

If board members weren’t suffering from information overload already, Larimer then discussed various options for consolidating the town’s bus garage and central offices.

But that idea was rejected by everyone, except Chairman Jim Grant, because of how expensive it would be to renovate the old Times Record building. The vote on the proposal was 8-1.

Board members also said they weren’t comfortable making a decision about how much to spend on elementary school buildings without first knowing what repairs must be made at the junior high school. Harriman will present those findings next month.

Despite interest on the topic of school and town facilities in the past, the meeting was sparsely attended by members of the public. The low turnout prompted Town Councilor Suzan Wilson to urge residents to tell the School board what they think about the options before them.

“The public needs to get out here and help you make these decisions,” she said.

The School Board is also seeking public input on the 2012-2013 budget, and is holding a special public hearing on Feb. 29 for that purpose.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

This story was edited on Jan. 26 to reflect the correct cost of the school facilities study.

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