School board gets new options for Brunswick school construction

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BRUNSWICK — School Board members are now considering a multitude of options to expand classroom space for Brunswick elementary students.

The rough proposals, presented to the board at a special meeting Wednesday, range from basic repairs of existing schools to new construction.

Lyndon Keck, the lead architect on the project from Portland-based firm PDT, explained it had come up with 12 options for repairs, renovation or construction at Brunswick Junior High School, Coffin Elementary School and Jordan Acres School.

The options are based on varying estimated project costs, student population capacities and building lifespans.

Presented costs range from $1.9 million for basic repairs to Coffin Elementary school to $26.3 million for a new 660-student, pre-K-through-second-grade school at the site of the shuttered Jordan Acres school.

Keck also included six proposals that mix and match repairs, renovations and new construction among the three schools to add room for 615 students.

Those packages range from about $9 million for basic repairs to Jordan Acres and Coffin to more than $36 million for a new pre-K-though-first-grade school and an addition to the junior high.

Faced with the vast array of options in front of them, school board members opted to research the proposals and discuss them at a future workshop.

Chairwoman Michele Joyce stated that the issue will not be included on the agenda for the board’s next meeting.

Until four months ago, the board appeared to favor new construction of a school over renovations to Coffin and the junior high.

In late May, however, the board voted to shift the fifth-grade class to the junior high for the 2015-2016 school year to forestall possible overcrowding at Harriot Beecher Stowe Elementary. That sparked a discussion about the need for a new school.

At a meeting in June, board members told PDT to put the new school project on ice and come back with designs for a smaller, pre-K-through-first-grade school as well as updated figures on renovations to Coffin and the junior high.

The cost of a smaller, one-story school that would house 440 students is estimated at $22.3 million, while a larger 660-student school would cost $26.3 million, according to Keck’s projections.

His estimates did not include the cost of razing and removing the existing Jordan Acres school, nor did it include the cost of playgrounds.

New buildings would be constructed for the industry-standard 40-year lifespan, which could be prolonged through regular maintenance, Keck said.

He added  that school districts have a tendency to wear through their buildings until they need major renovations or replacement.

Jordan Acres, which was closed in 2011 because of structural issues, is 42 years old, while Coffin is 58, Keck noted. Because it was built in different stages, the age of the Brunswick Junior High building varies between 30 and 54, Keck said.

Major renovations to Brunswick Junior High and Coffin would cost about $35 million, according to Keck’s projections, while minor renovations and additions would cost close to $28 million.

Repairs, on the other hand, would cost significantly less — about $1.9 million for Coffin, opening up space for a 330-student, K-through-second-grade school, and roughly $4 million to reopen Jordan Acres.

But repairs, Keck warned, meant doing the bare minimum to a building like Coffin – fixing doors, windows and fire systems in the building, but not making renovations like new fixtures, appliances or even paint on the walls.

Repairing the buildings could add another 10 years of use, but Keck warned against taking that estimate too seriously, explaining that even with basic repairs, it was likely the department would continue to spend money to keep the buildings “limping along.”

Board Member Chris McCarthy agreed, stating that he wanted to know the long-term maintenance cost of rehabilitating buildings.

“I have some real concerns with spending millions on buildings that cost us many more millions 30 years down the road because we punted,” McCarthy said.

Once it decides upon an option, the board will be faced with an even harder question – how to pay for it.

The Department of Environmental Education is not currently accepting applications for school funding and may not open up the process for another two years, he said.

When it does, Brunswick will face strong competition from school districts whose buildings are even older, Keck continued. In the best case scenario, construction of a new school with state funding could be completed in 2022, he estimated.

With local funding, the town could complete a repair project by 2017 or a large-scale construction or renovation by 2018, he guessed.

“As I’ve begun to absorb this more and more, financially, all of this is very unmanageable,” said Board Member Rich Ellis, adding that the town should start preparing to apply for state funding when it becomes available.

Whichever way it proceeds, the board needs to begin thinking strategically about where it wants to be 40 years into the future, said board Vice-Chairman William Thompson.

“If that’s what we’re building our buildings to, then we need to at least have a framework that we’re hanging this on so we’re not seemingly making decisions based on just need,” he said.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.