Cost of new Brunswick school nears $28M

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BRUNSWICK — A public hearing Wednesday on the final budget and designs for a new elementary school prompted debate over the proposed “two schools within a school” concept.

The School Board had to defend decisions members say will maximize the long-term functionality of the school, but have increased costs since the last project update. 

A town councilor who attended the School Board hearing expressed reservations about the project, saying he had hoped the board would present the council with a budget he’d feel comfortable defending when it goes to referendum in June. 

But that concern could be unwarranted, if the response from the public Wednesday is any indication. Residents who spoke among the approximately two dozen who attended seemed to agree with how the board has handled the project.

The School Board will present its final design to the council on Dec. 5.

PDT architect Lyndon Keck reported that the new school, when coupled with repairs to Brunswick Junior High School, would cost just over $33.6 million. 

The building will accommodate 660 students. While the board plans to educate students from pre-kindergarten through second grade in the completed school, Keck said the building is designed with flexibility in mind, and can accommodate different configurations.

He said that increased construction costs from adding more brick to the outer siding, and the board’s decision to install a geothermal heating system, raised the price about $1 million from the last two facilities meetings, bringing the final total to just shy of $28 million.

Although site plans for the building have not changed in months, the layout still prompted debate.

Keck described the building as “two schools within a school,” where each wing houses a separate “learning community” of pre-kindergarten through second grade students.

Each wing contains classrooms to accommodate 330 students, and stem from a central hallway that connects to common spaces like the library, cafeteria, and gymnasium.

Reading from a list of emailed questions the board received from a group of teachers, member Brenda Clough asked whether the separate wings would foster adequate community among teachers.

Clough said ideally she would like to see the wings connected through a corridor that would connect the second stories of each wing.  

Board member Janet Connors agreed, saying the separate wings would “limit the flexibility tremendously,” and that the connection would be worth the cost, which Keck said would be an extra $400,000-$500,000.

But Board member Sarah Singer pushed back on that idea.

“I don’t think it’s a radical thing to give (learning communities) smaller spaces,” she said, citing an analysis of Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary that calculated 350 students to be an ideal size. 

When the town had four elementary schools, small learning communities were the norm, and Maggie Jansson, a graduate of the school system who has a child at Coffin, remembered those days fondly.

“It was great,” she said during public comment. “It’s hard to sit here and remember what I had and not feel bad for my son.”

Kate Kalajainen, of Palmer Street, testified that a small learning environment benefited her three children, by strengthening the bonds between them, their classmates, and their teachers.

Because Brunswick can’t afford to build two separate schools, Board member Rich Ellis said the proposed design “tries to strike a compromise” between a small school and a larger, cost-effective option.

Adding to that, Keck said with 12 classrooms each, the wings would be “vibrant, busy spaces,” where students and teachers would have the opportunity to congregate in shared spaces.

Clough said her reservations aren’t strong enough to stop the project in its tracks, “but we may be creating some challenges for teachers who want to collaborate with each other.”

Town Councilor Dan Harris, meanwhile, said “It would be a lot easier in my mind to sell the bond to the community” if the board considered ways to trim the budget. 

He listed several ways, such as outsourcing preschool to a private organization like Brunswick Landing’s Family Focus, or reconsidering the geothermal heating system. 

Chairman Billy Thompson and Singer defended the geothermal system, appealing once again to future flexibility.

Though it added $700,000 to the final cost, a geothermal system provides “nearly free air conditioning,” Singer said, and will allow the schools to operate year-round programs.

“The context for geothermal was more about how you use the building and when,” than adding environmental bells and whistles.

In what felt like a summation of the board’s decision-making process, parent Ryan Sullivan of Meadowbrook Road said they should “make a building that we can be proud of in 50 years.”

“Do it right the first time, do big the first time,” he said, putting in an additional appeal for the junior high school, which was hardly discussed.

“That place needs a lot of love,” he said. 

In addition to the new elementary school, the town will vote on $5.7 million in repairs to the junior high school. But Thompson told Sullivan that the town is submitting an application for state funding that will hopefully cover some of the costs, although not until years from now.

Based on Wednesday’s input, the School Board will meet in early November to finalize the plan they will submit to the Town Council in December. 

Heeding the implications of Harris’ cautionary words, Singer ended the meeting by summarizing the state of Coffin Elementary School, and said she hopes the town will vote to fund the school in June.

She suggested that the board host another site visit at Coffin so members of the public could see for themselves that the aging building is beyond rehabilitation and barely able to accommodate its growing student body.

Harris, who toured Coffin earlier this year, agreed.

“Coffin’s got to go,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to spend time there.”

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

Lyndon Keck presented final designs for a new elementary school at a Brunswick School Board public hearing Oct. 19.

Brunswick’s proposed new elementary school will feature a “two schools in one” design, and be able to accommodate different grade configurations.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or
  • Jimmy_John67

    Remember when the Town owned two school buildings in Longfellow and Jordan Acres. Then Longfellow was deemed too expensive to repair and renovate so it was traded straight up for the new town hall which itself required a few million in repairs. Bowdoin then completely gutted Longfellow and renovated it entirely for only $6.5 million. Meanwhile the school department couldn’t be bothered to spend a nominal sum to perform basic maintenance and clear snow off the roof of Jordan Acres leading to the roof collapsing and loss of that building.

    Now the town must spend close to $30 million on a new school when, if anyone in charge had even an iota of sense, the two existing buildings would still be in use while only needing about $5 million in repairs and renovations. To date, as far as I can tell not a single person has lost their job over this boondoggle and epic waste of taxpayer money. Only in Brunswick is complete and utter incompetence of this magnitude not only tolerated but rewarded.

  • Chew H Bird

    And what is proposed lifespan of the massive investment? Private homes often last for many generations but I have seen the figure of 40 years mentioned in many school proposals. If the estimated lifespan is in the 40 year ballpark the taxpayers of Brunswick need to “just say no.”

  • Brenda Clough

    Brunswick can no longer postpone the replacement of both Coffin and Brunswick Junior High schools. Both of these buildings are beyond repair. The School Board is addressing the Coffin school first because there is no space left to accommodate a growing elementary population. The aging facility requires a long list of expensive repairs which would last for only a short time before an endless repeated cycle of expensive repairs are needed. Although the Junior High school is not overcrowded (yet), the School Board is addressing the most pressing facility needs with repairs and renovations presently. The School Board recognizes the cost is a large burden for the town and is therefore trying to be cost conscious, while addressing the current and future needs of the school department. For more details see my “Old Schools, New Schools” blog on google at

    • Chew H Bird

      If the school Board actually understood the concept of “cost” we would not be building newer schools with inadequate capacity, or building schools with collapsed roof systems and failing to hold the architects and engineers accountable, or building schools with shorter lifespans than a decently built doghouse.

    • Jimmy_John67

      No one debates that at this point the school must be replaced but please save the rhetoric about the School Board being cost conscious. If the School Board cared about cost consciousness the town wouldn’t need to even replace the school to begin with. If the School Board cared about cost consciousness the town wouldn’t have one of the highest cost per student ratios in the state (and rising each year) while at the same time having deteriorating facilities and overcrowded classrooms. If the School Board cared about cost consciousness there would be accountability for those responsible for creating this mess with a detailed plan, independent oversight and controls to prevent thus from ever happening again.

      The fact is the School Board doesn’t care about cost consciousness. As the price tag for the school steadily rises with more bells and whistles like geothermal heating and extraneous connective corridors (god forbid the teachers have to actually, !gasp!, walk a little to socialize) it becomes more and more apparent that cost control is a low priority for the School Board and School Administration. Before I get the inevitable, over wrought cries of “but it’s for the children so cost shouldn’t matter!” consider this….one third of Brunswick school children live below the poverty line. Every time the cost of the school goes up so do property taxes which just pushes those children deeper into poverty. It is very sad the School Board either can’t see this or chooses to ignore it.

      I can’t wait to see the proposals and cost estimates when the inevitable calls to replace the Junior High begin in a year or two!