Board: Brunswick school facilities plan critically important
BRUNSWICK — The Town Council will vote Nov. 19 on whether to use $174,500 for school construction and renovations the School Board believes is of "considerable importance."
If approved, the funds will come from the municipal budget and not the School Department. Town and school officials said doing so will save Brunswick time and money.
During the council's Nov. 5 meeting, School Board member Rich Ellis said the amount taken from the municipal budget will help fund the second phase of the School Department's Master Facilities Plan, which will be created by PDT Architects in Portland.
Based on an assessment from the plan's first phase, Ellis said, the board is seeking renovations and upgrades for Coffin Elementary School and Brunswick Junior High School.
"The primary infrastructure concerns we hope to address include the capacity bottleneck that we're experiencing with our K-5 classrooms and the structural deficiencies and general upkeep of our junior high facility," Ellis said. "Both of these projects are of critical importance to the town's infrastructure."
He said the 2011 closure of Jordan Acres Elementary School, which had up to 600 students in its peak years, has exacerbated the capacity situation.
"In our current configuration, we're currently using every mobile unit at our disposal," Ellis said, "and we have compromised special education space at Harriet Beecher Stowe (Elementary School) to make our current K-5 population work. Obviously these solutions are not sustainable in the long term and potentially not in the short term."
And the assessment found that reopening Jordan Acres would prove too costly when weighing all of the options.
Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said it would cost the town $2.6 million to fix structural problems at Jordan Acres and an additional $800,000 per year for staff and operating costs.
As for Brunswick Junior High School, Ellis said there are several problems that need to be addressed, including rotting wood, floors that have sunk by six inches in one area, recurrent water problems and other safety issues.
If the facilities plan goes forward, Perzanoski said, people can expect to vote on a bond for facilities upgrades and renovations next spring.
Construction and renovations could start as early as summer 2013 and would take around two years to complete, he said.
Perzanoski said work will begin on Coffin School first because of the town's capacity problem in kindergarten through fifth grade. He said the school wouldn't be able to handle an unexpected influx of new students.
While the plan's public hearing produced no critics or supporters, Councilor Benet Pols said he received three e-mails criticizing the town's use of money for the project.
In a e-mail forwarded to town councilors and Town Manager Gary Brown, resident Jean Powers said the proposal to spend $174,500 is "fleecing taxpayers again."
She asked why the town is looking to use funds from the municipal budget and not the school budget, when the schools have more than a $2 million surplus.
"It should be denied as they don't need it," Powers said.
Brown explained that taking funds from the municipal budget, instead of the schools', will actually save money. If the funds were appropriated from the school budget, he said, it would have had to go to referendum, which would have cost the town an additional several thousand dollars.
In addition, Brown said leftover funds from the school budget will lapse to next year's budget to reduce the impact on taxpayers.
"By amending the municipal budget, we can avoid the referendum and it saves the town some money," Brown said, "and it gets this project underway with some level of certainty. ... It's just a lot simpler, a lot cleaner. "
The town manager also said the council initially appropriated $200,000 in July 2011 for the Master Facilities Plan, but nearly $69,000 of those funds went back to the municipal budget earlier this year because there was no contract in place for the second phase.
Brown said any leftover funds from the plan's second phase will lapse to the municipal budget in the same manner.
Responding to questions from a few councilors, Perzanoski said PDT Architects was the only contractor to make a bid for this phase of the Master Facilities Plan.
In addition, he said, because the contractor's bid didn't come until late spring, the town wasn't able to add the second phase's cost to the 2012-2013 budget when it was finalized in May.