Cumberland, North Yarmouth voters OK performing arts center

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CUMBERLAND — Residents in Cumberland and North Yarmouth voted 4,149 to 3,953 Tuesday, a 2 percent margin, to borrow as much as $9.5 million to add a performing arts center at Greely High School.

The question passed 2,815 to 2,630 in Cumberland, and more narrowly in North Yarmouth, 1,334 to 1,323.

Voter turnout in Cumberland was 81.5 percent of 6,500 registered voters. In North Yarmouth it was 81 percent of 3,276 voters.

Construction of the planned 26,000-square-foot center – which will be built at the rear of Greely High School, on a leveled-off area between the 303 Main St. building and the outdoor track – could begin next summer and conclude in fall 2018.

Designed by Stephen Blatt Architects to seat 500, the plan could be expanded to fit 700. Detailed information on the project can be found at msad51.org.

Superintendent Jeff Porter said Tuesday night that he thought the vote tally might be close, given concerns he’d heard about the impact on taxes the PAC would create.

“It’s exciting, though; it passed,” he added.

SAD 51 Board of Directors member John Simpson, who’d voted against putting the bond question on the ballot, said Tuesday he thought given the support that was evident at multiple public hearings the vote margin might be wider.

Still, he said, “it’s a very large expenditure. There are a number of people in our town that are older … and this is a significant increase in their tax bill.”

Simpson noted that he hasn’t been against the project, but thought it should be “part of a larger, more comprehensive capital investment plan.”

“It’s passed now; we just have to see that it gets done right,” he added.

The two-story square building will include a 40-foot-tall fly loft – used to store scenery out of sight – as well as teaching spaces for band and chorus. The project also includes about $1 million for performing arts equipment.

The arts center will replace Greely High’s “cafetorium,” a combined cafeteria and auditorium. Several students at a recent public hearing noted the awkward conditions of the current set-up, including cramped changing areas, compared with the many school districts around that have their own PACs.

Some critics point to other major projects on the district’s horizon, such as improvements at the Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School and sections of Greely High School. Meanwhile, the two towns have significant projects ahead, including an expanded fire station in Cumberland and redevelopment of the former North Yarmouth Memorial School property.

The School Board’s 10-year facilities plan, which was approved by board members in June, calls for construction of the arts center, as well as improvements at the Wilson and high schools. Data on elements like optimal grade configurations is being collected before facility work at Mabel I. Wilson begins.

The PAC’s debt would be tiered over three years, to minimize the expense as existing debt is retired. Interest-only payments would come in 2019 and 2020, followed by peak interest and principal payments the next year.

The impact of the increase on the tax bill for a $300,000 home would be $9 in Cumberland and $12 in North Yarmouth in 2019 and 2020, and then $69 in Cumberland and $84 in North Yarmouth in 2021.

The difference reflects the property valuation in each community. Cumberland has a larger commercial tax base and hence more property value; the greater the valuation in a community, the less impact there is on the tax rate, school district Finance Director Scott Poulin has said.

Annual PAC bond debt, to be partly offset by refinancing Greely High bonds from a prior project, would be as much as $777,500 in 2021, dropping to $507,500 by 2039, while debt service on other projects would be retired, according to Poulin.

Increased valuation in both towns over the years would help soften the impact as well, he has noted.

The PAC’s operating costs each year could be nearly $133,000, including $32,000 for a theater manager; $43,000 for a custodian; about $39,000 for energy costs, and about $18,000 for maintenance and supplies.

Voters in 2001 approved a 475-seat facility for $5 million, but the bond amount ended up being insufficient to cover construction costs. A follow-up referendum for an additional $1.5 million failed, which killed the project.

While a $9 million figure had been floated this time around, the $9.5 million cap was put in place to provide flexibility so the district will not have to go back to the two towns again for more funds.

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

By a 2 percent margin, Cumberland and North Yarmouth voted Tuesday to borrow as much as $9.5 million to add a performing arts center to Greely High School.

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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.