m-brunelementaryschool-010209 Staff, Planning Board to review elementary school plan

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BRUNSWICK — Plans for a new $28.5 million elementary school will soon be scrutinized by town staff and the Planning Board, as the project proceeds despite grim economic news from the state.
Town staff will begin their review Jan. 6 at 10:30 a.m. at the municipal meeting facility on McKeen Street – the future site of the new school. The Planning Board will begin its review of the project Jan. 13.
The project, which is 87 percent state-funded, will result in the razing of the old high school on McKeen Street, as well as the eventual closing of Hawthorne and Longfellow elementary schools.
But plans for Hawthorne and Longfellow vary; town officials say the latter will likely be sold. Hawthorne could become the future home of the Brunswick School Department, potentially leaving the department’s current home on Union Street to be converted to a municipal meeting facility.
The old high school is scheduled to be razed in March.
Town Planner Jim Fortune said Monday that review of the elementary school plan will include the redevelopment of Crimmins Athletic Fields on Baribeau Drive. While the Planning Board is likely to take separate action on the elementary school and Crimmins, the two projects are linked because improvements at Crimmins are a direct result of the new school.
Playing fields and athletic facilities on the McKeen Street site will be reoriented and moved because of the school.
The entire project will result in redevelopment of the McKeen Street site, including egress points and parking.
Fortune said traffic flow and storm water mitigation will likely attract most of the staff and Planning Board’s attention.
Fortune said the new school will likely be slightly larger than the existing facility. The two-story building is slated to hold 600 students in grades three through five.
In June, voters approved the project 2,221 to 1,460. While the majority of the project is state-funded, Brunswick taxpayers are responsible for paying more than $3.3 million.
Those costs could rise following the state Department of Education’s October decision to delay construction bonding on 12 school projects.
It’s uncertain exactly how much more construction of the new school will cost, or whether the DOE or Brunswick will pay for it. Estimates provided by the town’s finance office were projected at close to $100,000, an increase that could get even larger if the economy prompts the DOE to delay bonding even further.
The DOE’s decision came in response to the governor’s directive for state agencies to cut back in order to reduce a shortfall in the next two-year budget. By delaying the bonding for six to 12 months, the state will push back about $9 million of bond payments from the 2010-2011 state budget to the next biennial.
In October, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said the six-month bonding delay probably wouldn’t impede the construction of the new school, which is scheduled to open in 2011. He said the March 2009 demolition of the old high school on McKeen Street is still on schedule, with new construction slated for June.
The town will eventually carry the entire the $28.5 million bond, but it’s expecting 87 percent state reimbursement. According to town Finance Director John Eldridge, costs could increase because the town would have to float a temporary bond longer at a higher interest rate.
The temporary bonding is also known as bond anticipation borrowing, and is similar to bridge financing for home buyers.
Eldridge said it’s possible to nullify the additional costs associated with bond anticipation borrowing with a process called arbitrage. Arbitrage sometimes works because towns don’t typically spend all the money in a temporary bond and instead reinvest the unspent funds at a higher interest rate than it borrowed.
Perzanoski said the School Department is still hoping the DOE will pay for the additional costs associated with the temporary bonding. However, the DOE has not made any commitments to do so.
DOE spokesman David Connerty-Marin in October said it’s unlikely the state would abandon the 12 construction projects.
“These projects have been committed to,” Connerty-Marin said. “The state to my knowledge has never decided not to fund a project they’ve committed to.”

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net.