BREWER, Maine — Modifying the front of Brewer High School so the two entrances become one, adding a 100-seat lecture hall, moving administrative offices and improving the cafeteria are planned projects in a bond referendum that residents will vote on Sept. 18.
The Maine Department of Education has approved a $5.4 million Quality School Construction bond for the high school. On Tuesday school officials and a representative from WBRC Architects-Engineers of Bangor gave City Council members a glimpse of what the money would buy.
Gretchen Gardner, school department business manager, and David Eisenthal, vice president and senior financial advisor for UniBank Fiscal Advisory Services Inc., then gave presentations about the cost to taxpayers, which essentially will be flat because payments for the improvements would not start until other debt is retired in 2016.
“We will be able to go out and sell those bonds, … but we will not start paying for those bonds until fiscal year 2017,” Gardner said. “It allows us to borrow the money we need without increasing our debt service to local taxpayers.”
Eisenthal explained that interest payments on the bonds would need to be paid starting this year, but “all of the interest would be covered by federal subsidies” tied to the school improvement bond. And thanks to a new Maine law, principal payments can be delayed for the first four years, or until other debt is paid off.
“If the voters agree to fix the high school, they will not see a spike in the tax base,” Superintendent Daniel Lee said.
School officials learned nearly a decade ago that there was little chance the state would pay to replace Brewer High School, and instead went after and got funds to build the now complete pre-K-through-eighth-grade Brewer Community School.
In that same time period, the number of students at Brewer High has been declining and therefore the design plans also call for the reduction of classrooms, Lee said.
“It basically eliminates 11 classrooms,” he said.
When City Councilor Larry Doughty stopped the discussion at that point to ask why classrooms were being removed, Lee responded by saying, “Back in the ’80s we had 1,100 students. We don’t have that amount anymore.”
The new designs are for “a school for 650 instead of 1,100” that still maintains the current programs and services, he said.
There were 709 students enrolled at Brewer High School on April 1, 2012.
School officials have been discussing how to make improvements at the high school, which was built in 1958 and has been renovated seven times, without increasing costs to residents for two years, Lee said.
Mayor Jerry Goss said when the new elementary-middle school opened up, residents began asking when Brewer was going to get a new high school.
“It looks like urban renewal waiting to happen,” said Goss, who is a former Brewer High School principal.
He thanked the school board and trustees for their forward thinking to address the school’s improvement needs.
“We need to get the word out to people,” Goss said. Making improvements to the school without increasing taxes is “a tremendous opportunity,” he said.