Brunswick track project may require town funding

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BRUNSWICK — Community efforts to raise approximately $860,000 for a new track at the high school may rely on the town contributing some funds.

At a Jan. 5 Facilities Committee meeting, parents told the committee and three town councilors that they are willing and excited to raise the funds, but would like to see the town chip in.

The committee also discussed possible future uses of Coffin Elementary School if voters in June approve building a replacement school on the old Jordan Acres site.

So far, committee-level discussions about building a new track have centered on support from the community, given the expensive price tag.

At one point, Town Council Vice Chairwoman Kathy Wilson asked Barry Logan and another parent, Brannon Fisher, “If the Town Council said no, does that mean you guys are going to quit?”

Logan replied, “It would really compromise my commitment to fundraising.” Logan has said he is willing to raise the money because he has two kids in the school system. 

The track is 21 years old, and is considered unsafe, according to Athletic Director Jeff Ramich. He said the track has been properly maintained over the years, but the average lifespan of a track is “15 years, plus or minus.” 

The town uses the track for recreational programs, which prompted Logan to characterize it as a municipal facility as well as a school amenity, thus deserving support from the town. 

Fisher, a vice president in Bowdoin College’s fundraising department, said it is easier to raise money when donors are aware of a matching contribution.

Town Council Chairwoman Alison Harris responded to Logan’s and Fisher’s comments by reminding those in the room that “in this particular year, we (the town) are confronting three major capital projects,” and the urgency for a track would be weighed in context.

The School Board has asked the council to finance a new elementary school and repairs to Brunswick Junior High School, and the chief of the Fire Department has asked the town to replace the 97-year-old central fire station.

If parents and members of the community do form a group to raise the funds, it is possible they may seek 501(c)3 nonprofit status. 

But the group held off on making any organizational decisions, opting to first arrange a meeting between the committee and the town finance committee to get a better sense of whether the council might appropriate funds.

The time line going forward will also depend on whether the committee accepts a bid from Huntress Associates, the same engineering firm the Board commissioned last year for a study and design plans.

The study, which cost $32,000, outlines plans to excavate and rebuild the entire facility, and lays the foundation for synthetic soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, and football fields, which require special subterranean anchors. The Massachusetts-based firm specializes in designing tracks. 

Coffin School

At the Town Council’s request, the Facilities Committee also brainstormed potential uses for the Coffin Elementary School building if it is replaced.

The conversation was preliminary, and dealt with too many uncertainties for the committee to coalesce around a recommendation.

“We can safely say that the school is going to be utilized as it is for the next three to five years,” Superintendent Paul Perzanoksi said. If the town votes to build a new school at the Jordan Acres site, Coffin will remain in session during construction, he said. 

If the town embarks on repairs to the junior high school building – or rebuilds the high school with state funding, pending an application that would be approved or denied in 2018 – Coffin would likely house junior high school students during construction. The two schools share a campus on Barrows Street.

“After that, there’s options,” Perzanoski continued, depending on whether the department keeps the building in the district, or gives it back to the town.

If the town builds a new school, facilities Chairwoman Sarah Singer noted that Coffin has amenities like a gym and a kitchen that would support community recreational programs or a community center.

On the other hand, if the school department moved its administrative offices into the building, its current location at the old Hawthorne School on Federal Street could be given back to the town. 

Singer said the rearrangement would reduce the number of town-owned school buildings, and the agreement could strengthen the department’s relationship with taxpayers, who are being asked to fund Coffin’s replacement. 

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

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Reporter on the Brunswick/Harpswell beat. Proud Bowdoin grad that you can find reporting on municipal, school, and community news, or inside the many coffee and sandwich shops around the Midcoast. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100.