Cost to update Brunswick schools continues to rise

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BRUNSWICK —  The School Board received updated costs for building a new school or doing repairs as it decides how to update aging schools.

Coffin Elementary School and Brunswick Junior High School were built in 1959, and have never had major renovations, according to a report for the School Department by PDT Architects. The result is that both buildings fail to meet basic standards for fire safety, accessibility and hazardous materials.

The School Board initially voted to send a $12.5 million bond to repair the schools and update portable classrooms to the Town Council, but the council blocked it from going to a public hearing in August.

Since then, the School Board has resurrected the possibility of building a new school on the site of the former Jordan Acres Elementary School.

Architect Lyndon Keck of PDT presented updated costs for that project at the board’s Nov. 12 meeting.

The price of building a new, 99,000-square-foot, 660-student school for kindergarten through second grade at Jordan Acres would be just more than $27.7 million, Keck reported, up from a previously estimated cost of $26.3 million.

Keck also presented two more “simplified” floor plans, which could still house 660 children, which would cost $24 million and $24.5 million, respectively.

The cost of “light” renovations at Coffin went up to just under $17 million, “major” renovations went up to more than $19.5 million, and a new building was estimated to cost $25.2 million.

For BJHS, light renovations and small additions ranged from just over $16 million to just under $20 million, a large addition was estimated at $22.8 million, and a new building would be $34 million.

Board members did not expressly endorse a plan, and sent the numbers to the facilities committee for a recommendation.

At that committee’s meeting Tuesday, Nov. 17, board members struggled with the baggage of the past attached to the newly updated plan.

The original Jordan Acres floor plan was presented to the public at a meeting in January 2014, where it was widely criticized. Many in attendance argued its K-2 grade structure would break up educational “continuity,” compared to a K-5 school.

Board member Sarah Singer worried that the revised plan for Jordan Acres would be shot down if sent to a bond referendum.

“(The January 2014) meeting, if anything, showed that we did not have support for this,” she said. “I cannot be convinced that rushing (this plan) … will not blow up in our faces.”

Board member Rich Ellis agreed that the plan needed substantial public support to pass, but argued that delaying the decision further could be dangerous.

“We’ve been meandering through this for four years,” he said.

The four-year meander started in 2011, when the original Jordan Acres Elementary School was closed.

An inadequately designed connection caused a ceiling beam to crack that year, but was quickly stabilized. However, facing a $4 million budget gap due to declining enrollment after the closing of Brunswick Naval Air Station and the loss of high school students from Durham to Regional School Unit 5, the board voted to close the school to save $800,000, according to Superintendent Paul Perzanoski.

Brunswick now has a new elementary school, Harriet Beecher Stowe, that is over capacity to accommodate the loss of Jordan Acres, Perzanoski said at the facilities committee meeting Tuesday, and another elementary school that needs significant repairs.

“We have to do something,” he said. “Otherwise there will be another 4 1/2 years of chasing our tail, and getting nothing done, and continuing to have schools which are falling apart.”

Committee members Singer and Ellis agreed not to endorse a specific proposal for a new school Tuesday, but to go back to the board for a discussion on how to get public involvement on the plan through a workshop or series of workshops.

“I am OK with a new K-2 school (at Jordan Acres), but it has to be something special … to get a groundswell” of public support, Singer said.

“What if (the public) is supportive of a new school,” Singer asked, “but this is not the school they want?”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

A preliminary rendering of a new elementary school at the site of the former Jordan Acres Elementary School in Brunswick.

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.