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Brunswick eyes $21M in school renovations

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Brunswick eyes $21M in school renovations

BRUNSWICK — The School Department's facilities plan for upgrades at Coffin Elementary School and Brunswick Junior High School will receive $174,500 in municipal funds after the Town Council unanimously approved the appropriation Monday night.

The money will fund the plan's second phase, in which Portland-based PDT Architects will create schematics and work with the School Board to determine what exactly the upgrades at the two schools will include.

Before the council voted Monday night, Chairwoman Joanne King asked the School Board to clarify what the construction project may cost if it goes to a bond referendum next spring.

Board member Matt Corey said the ballpark figure is $21 million – an estimate from the facilities plan's first phase, when Portland-based architecture and engineering firm Harriman Associates worked with the School Department to assess the work.

"The reason I ask the question about the amount is I want people who have been advocating for us to give $174,500 to understand if all this moves forward, you're talking about $21 million," King said. "... There are a lot of things involved here, and you might not be able to do everything all at once."

King said that according to Town Manager Gary Brown, $21 million could cause more than a 6 percent increase in property taxes.

Brown said the estimated debt service on the bond is based on a conservative figure of 10 percent of the $21 million. That percentage would amount to $2 million a year in debt service, which means an extra 6-7 percent increase in property taxes.

"I think people need to know what the $21 million represents," King said, "because you need to fix your facilities – and you need to fix one of them, for sure – but you may be wrestling with how much is left for your school budget if you talk big numbers like that."

King said her other reason for mentioning the cost estimate was her belief that the board has been a little casual in "adding things" to the plan.

"As long as people are following along and they understand what it is, I am a big supporter of facility needs being addressed, because they do cost you a lot more in the long run," King said. "But I just want people to understand what we're talking about."

Corey said the School Board has been clear about the final cost of construction and renovations, and that infrastructure improvements like this will be worthwhile to the town.

"For people in town, while ($21 million) is a large number, I think once these two projects are done, if you look at the major infrastructure for this town ... there are really no major infrastructure building type things for the foreseeable future. Really for 15-20-25 years," he said . "I look at this as an investment in the future, so that we are not pushing this down the road as have happened with a number of projects."

Councilor Suzan Wilson, echoing her comments from the last council meeting, again pressed the importance of the School Board having a strategic plan to run in place with the facilities plan.

"You don't want the building to drive the educational philosophy. You want an educational strategy to drive the building you want," Wilson said. "So I hope there is some kind of merging of educational strategic planning and facilities planning, in such a way that your public can get together and see how they meld together and it's worth it and it works out right."

Adding to Wilson's comments, Councilor Sarah Brayman asked about any possible changes to the elementary schools' grade configurations with the facilities upgrade.

Corey said when the School Board voted to close Jordan Acres Elementary School last year, they also voted down any changes to grade configuration for the remaining elementary schools.

He said that meant Coffin Elementary School will proceed with kindergarten to second-grade, and Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School with K-5.

However, Corey said the School Department's contractor will design the Coffin Elementary School renovations in a way that doesn't pigeonhole the school with a certain grade configuration. This way, changes can be made in the future.

Board Member Rich Ellis previously laid out what exactly needs to happen at 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."

Coffin Elementary School will see an upgrade in capacity, in part to address the 2011 closure of Jordan Acres Elementary School, Ellis said.

Brunswick Junior High School, on the other hand, will receive improvements to address structural issues such as rotting wood, floors that have sunk by six inches in one area, recurrent water problems and other safety issues, Ellis said.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.