Brunswick Town Council rejects school bond proposal

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council voted 8-1 Monday against sending a proposal to borrow $12.6 million, largely for school repairs, to an Aug. 17 public hearing.

The council’s decision means a school bond will not be ready in time for a November referendum, Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman said. It could go to a vote next June or November, unless a special election is held sooner.

The 10-year bond, presented by the School Board, would have provided about $10 million for repairs to Brunswick Junior High and Coffin Elementary schools, and $2.51 million to acquire a 12-classroom modular unit, replacing six out-of-date portable classrooms at the Coffin school.

The work would help bring both schools into compliance with standards for fire safety, hazardous materials and accessibility.

But many councilors said the money will not go far enough to address needs at the two schools. They suggested a larger bond – possibly for construction of a new school or renovation of an existing one – might be more appropriate.

Councilor Jane Millett acknowledged the amount of work the School Board and Facilities Committee have put into the project. But she said she could not vote in favor of the proposal, “because I don’t think it’s a good use of our credit, and our ability to bond … projects that we need to do.

“We do, I believe, need a bigger project,” Millett added. “… I just think that we can do better, for longer, with less.”

Councilor John Richardson said Brunswick is “on a pathway towards having to build or seriously … reconstruct two buildings almost at the same time.”

He suggested minor repairs be planned, for health and safety purposes, and then work toward construction of a new school or major renovation of an existing one.

“Until we … accept that we have to do … the tough financial things that are necessary here, I think we’re just going to be kicking the can down the road,” Richardson said, noting the importance of a combined town-and-schools maintenance effort going forward.

John Perreault, the only councilor to support sending the bond to a public hearing this month, said he, too, had talked about a larger project. But he said the School Board had “done its due diligence” in recent years determining the best course of action for the schools.

“If this is the direction that they would like to go, I’m going to support that,” Perreault said, adding that he wanted to see a single page of items that ranks priority repairs.

In a June 18 presentation, Lyndon Keck, lead architect from Portland-based PDT, told the School Board and Town Council that the two schools are out of compliance with standards for fire safety, hazardous materials and accessibility.

The Coffin school has never had any major renovations since being built in 1955, according to PDT. While the oldest portion of BJHS, constructed in 1959, has never had a major renovation, the school was expanded in 1966, 1976, and 1983. The 1983 wing was built following a fire.

School Facilities Director Paul Caron, who on Monday presented the council with a long list of needs at both schools, said budget cuts have whittled down his maintenance staff, making it difficult to keep up with issues emerging at both aging schools.

“These buildings were designed with what’s called a 40-year life cycle,” Keck said, noting that the buildings, both older than 40, have not been poorly maintained, but “are just simply worn out,” and were not designed well to begin with.

“In my opinion, these are all repair items,” Keck said of his list of improvements. “I think these are things that are going to be needed if these two buildings are going to be kept in service for another 10, 12 or 15 years.”

Keck said he told the School Board that if the repairs are made as proposed, “they’re not going to be renovated buildings. They’re not going to look nice. They’re not going to be terrific. From what I saw, that bothered School Board members.”

Money was added for interior painting at both schools, and a small amount of exterior paint, along with new floor finishes.

William Thompson, chairman of the School Board, noted that with 25 meetings held on the project, most of which were open to the public, consensus on a plan was difficult.

“It is a misread to think that there’s a plan out there that the entire community is going to get behind, that is a $30 million plan, or a $24 million plan,” he said, expressing doubt that the public is ready to spend $24 million on a new school, while having to operate another school with needs.

As a result, the School Board whittled down its proposal.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Sidebar Elements

Brunswick’s Coffin Elementary School, built in 1959, has never had a major renovation.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.