HAMPDEN, Maine — SAD 22 officials are moving forward steadily with plans for a new $51.6 million high school despite a one-year delay imposed last fall by the state on funding for new construction projects.
Superintendent Rick Lyons said last week that SAD 22 was able to secure interim financing privately for part of the project, which will allow work to begin this summer.
“We didn’t want to accept a one-year delay,” Lyons said. “So, rather than delay a year, which likely would have led to increased costs, we worked with local banks to secure funding. People wanted to work with us; it’s no more complicated than that.”
Last September, voters from Hampden, Newburgh and Winterport, the towns that make up SAD 22, passed a referendum to move forward with a new school, which will be the most expensive in Maine’s history. The $51.6 million project includes $45.4 million in funding that will be paid for by the state and $6.2 million that will be paid for by taxpayers in the three towns.
Shortly after the September 2008 vote, however, the Department of Education announced that it would suspend funding for all new projects for one year, mostly in response to the national economic crisis. Lyons said SAD 22 officials worked immediately with the state to come up with a way to avoid a significant delay.
“We want to commend the [education] commissioner on this,” he said. “We realized this was a nontraditional request.”
Essentially, SAD 22 secured $2.2 million in funding from a local lender for site work and design, which will be sent out to bid in the summer, only slightly behind schedule. The state even agreed to pay approximately $125,000 in interest for that loan.
Martha Kimball, chair of the building committee, said if the project were delayed for one year, it likely would have added an estimated $3.5 million to the overall cost. Now, if the project goes out to bid sooner, it’s possible that the cost could be lower because contracting firms want work in this slow economy.
Initial work will include securing and enclosing the site with a temporary fence, clearing the land and installing underground utilities. Phase II of the project will go out to bid later in the year and construction work is scheduled to begin early in 2010.
A new Hampden Academy would open by December 2011, adjacent to Hampden’s existing middle and elementary schools off Route 1A.
Assistant Superintendent Emil Genest said it’s important for residents in the three SAD 22 towns to keep in mind that funding for a new high school already has been set aside. It is not part of the school district’s coming budget.
“This is going to be a tough year and we’re not immune,” he said. “But this money is separate. It’s already committed.”
The project eventually will require some taxpayer contribution. Early estimates indicate that the local share will be $70 per $100,000 of property valuation for residents of the three SAD 22 towns. That number will go down each year of the 30-year bond.
The local share will fund elements of the project that the state would not fully fund. They are:
— A 900-seat performing arts center that could support the entire student body and faculty, estimated to cost $2.6 million.
— Expanded science classrooms and laboratories that meet national standards, estimated at $1 million.
— A gymnasium and wellness center with the same capacity as the existing Skehan Center, projected to cost $1.7 million.
— An efficient, alternative energy system that could include a geothermal component that would cost about $785,000 more than the state would allow.