School facility costs adding up in Cape Elizabeth

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Interim Superintendent of Schools Howard Colter says it’s time to “correct and improve upon” facilities problems that have “been around for many years.”

Colter’s comment came during an April 30 meeting on the importance of school renovations with the School Board, Town Council, and engineers and architects.

Two drivers behind the School Department’s proposed $25.6 million budget for fiscal year 2019 are $60,000 for a new custodian at the high school and about $249,000 in engineering and architect fees for a feasibility study for improvements at all three schools – which preliminary cost estimates put in the range of $21-$27 million.

Monday’s meeting was scheduled after Councilor Jamie Garvin suggested in April that the council and School Board discuss the renovations from a health and safety standpoint, before the council votes on the school budget May 14. 

Colby Co. Engineering and Scott Simons Architects offered to reduce their fee for the study from $760,000 to $249,000 to get the project to a bond referendum, tentatively slated for June 2019. The department would only have to pay the full $760,000 if the borrowing is approved.

If the school budget as proposed is approved by voters on June 12, a notice would be sent to both Portland-based firms to proceed with the feasibility study, which would include site investigations at all three schools this summer.

Although discussions are still preliminary, concerns with School Department infrastructure have already been identified, including the front entrances and cafetorium at Pond Cove Elementary School and the middle school. Pond Cove and CEMS also lack a backup generator, which the design team finds problematic, along with flaws in the schools’ information technology systems.

Also, offices at Pond Cove and CEMS are located away from the entry points, allowing visitors to walk past student gathering spaces before reaching the administration, which is considered a major safety concern. To fix this, the design team envisions an addition to the front of the school, closest to Scott Dyer Road, to place offices between the entries.

These new entrances could incorporate additional security measures, such as video surveillance, digital security alarms, and remote locks. 

At Pond Cove and CEMS, the cafetorium serves both schools, with five, 20- to 25-minute consecutive lunchtimes starting at 10:45 a.m. This only leaves kitchen staff five minutes between each lunch to clean and reset before the next group of students arrive.

The design team outlined additional challenges with having a combined space, including an undersized kitchen, dual use of “uncomfortable” tables and benches, and inadequate support space for dining and performances. Additionally, the current layout isn’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Their proposed fix is to renovate the space to serve only as an auditorium, with additional office space and classrooms at the front of the adjoined schools, and a new kitchen between the schools, attached to the existing structures by separate dining areas in each school. 

James Hebert, electrical engineer and project manager with Colby, said the IT closet that serves the two schools needs to be updated for safety reasons, because it’s next to some “domestic water valves,” which he said is a “big ‘no-no.'”

Needed improvements include renovating the main IT distribution closet to have an uninterrupted power supply, replacing outdated equipment, providing additional dedicated spaces for IT equipment and data drops to all classrooms, and adding a new network cable. 

A schematic design for recommended improvements would then likely be developed in the fall and submitted to the School Department in December. The department hopes to form a Building and Grounds Committee, made up of administration, faculty, school and town staff and residents, to review and comment on the design. 

After incorporating those comments into their plan, Colby and Simons would likely present their final design to the School Board in March 2019, to be sent to a bond referendum in June.

Assuming the bond passes, a construction design would be complete by December 2019, with the hope of starting construction in April 2020.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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