Scarborough council approves $39M Wentworth referendum for ballot

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SCARBOROUGH — Voters will decide in November whether to approve a $39 million bond to build a new intermediate school to replace the ailing Wentworth school building.

Town Councilors on Monday approved the ballot language for the referendum.

The project includes a nearly $3 million geothermal heating and cooling system, as recommended by the School Board. The committee in charge of planning for the new school had originally said the geothermal system may be a separate referendum question.

Harriman and Associates, who designed the building proposal, has estimated it will take 10 years for the district to see a return on its investment in the geothermal system.

Council Chairwoman Judith Roy said the bond could carry a 30-year term with an interest rate as high as 4.5 percent. At that rate, with the $39 million principle, the total cost of the school would be more than $66 million.

“It’s a lot of money,” said Councilor Michael Wood. But, he said, getting the wording settled now allows plenty of time for supporters to pitch the new school to voters. With a good education campaign, “individuals will see this is the time to build this school and replace Wentworth.”

About 775 third- through fifth-grade students attend Wentworth. Supporters say the school must be replaced because of asbestos, overcrowding, poor design and a lack of air conditioning in the warm months.

The new Wentworth would stand two stories and contain 40 classrooms. It would feature a large, internal courtyard to maximize natural light to classrooms, and a large gym.

The school would be home to operations larger than just Wentworth: The high school basketball and track teams would be expected to use the gym, the kitchen would provide food for all the district’s schools, and space would be reserved for community services.

The building would total about 163,000 square feet, for a construction price of about $240 per square foot, if the plan includes the geothermal heating and cooling system.

Councilors, who unanimously supported the measure, said now the work would be in educating the town about the proposal in an attempt to earn the popular support that eluded supporters of a new intermediate and middle school when a similar plan was defeated at the polls in 2006.

“We need to get out there and educate the public now and make sure they understand what this project is, what it entails, and that the committee that put this together has been very careful to make sure the citizens get the most bang for their buck,” said Councilor Ronald Ahlquist.

In other council business:

• Councilors approved a motion to create a 12-acre habitat for the state-endangered listed New England Cottontail near the Wiley Recreation area for 10 years. The project will be funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and will entail minor landscaping work, such as removing tall trees and plating indigenous shrubbery.

• Councilors accepted a study on pedestrian-based improvements to Oak Hill. The study, conducted by ALTA Planning and Design and funded by Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, outlined a strategy for making the Oak Hill Region more pedestrian-friendly. This included the construction of more crosswalks and “traffic-calming” measures such as medians and pedestrian islands designed to slow down vehicular traffic.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Mario on Twitter: @riocarmine.

Sidebar Elements

Councilor announces resignation

On Wednesday, two-term Councilor Michael Wood announced his resignation from the Town Council effective in November, in time for an election to be held for the remaining two years of his seat.

Wood, who works as an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration, said he was resigning to accommodate a new job he accepted with the Boston Central Airport in Nashua, N.H. Wood said he has no intention to move, but that time considerations force him to abandon his post.

“I take it very seriously, this position that folks have voted me to,” he said. “I think it’s very important that I have enough time and preparation to represent you folks in the manner I’ve become accustomed to. I look forward to the new challenge and know that in the long run this will be best for me and my family.”

– Mario Moretto