Brewer High School is a 54-year-old stick-built structure badly in need of many things. Since a new school is unlikely to be funded by the state in the foreseeable future, it’s imperative that the existing building undergo renovations. Thanks to zero-percent federal funding in the amount of $5.4 million, major changes can be made — but only if Brewer citizens vote for it on referendum on Sept. 18.
The funding will come from a federal Quality Zone Academy Bond. Brewer and South Portland were awarded the lion’s share of the funds, with Brewer slated for $5.4 million. This QZAB money is interest free, and once borrowed, the city won’t have to begin repayment for four years. That means payback won’t begin until 2017.
“This will not cost you any more than it costs you right now,” Lee told Brewer citizens at the luncheon. “This is a good deal. If we had to borrow this money — $5.4 million, even at 3 or 4 percent interest — that’s a pretty significant amount of money… If we don’t take this money, someone else will get it.”
The city has one year to accept the money, which it cannot do without a positive vote on referendum. If citizens vote it down, the money is gone. And, according to Lee, it isn’t a question of whether the city should accept the money — the renovations to the high school must happen, and if voters oppose this QZAB money, the city will have no choice but to borrow money with interest and begin paying that back immediately.
The renovations include:
• relocating the main offices with the guidance area, creating a unified office space and increasing school security
• redesigning the old kitchen
• expanding the cafeteria into vacated office space, adding skylights, and increasing the capacity to 320 students; currently, it takes three hours to feed all students in multiple shifts, but this will cut lunch time dramatically
• adding round tables to the cafeteria
• adding a 100-seat lecture hall to bring in classes for big presentations
• eliminating 11 classrooms that are no longer needed, increasing operating efficiency. The school once had 1,100 students but is set to level out at 650, so the rooms are no longer needed
• moving students out of the former Tech Building and into the main school, and freeing that building up for other uses
• upgrading the gymnasium restrooms, as well as reducing hallway crowding — a clear safety issue that the school has wrestled with, such as during basketball games when hot dogs are being sold in the corridor
• rerouting buses to the side of the building, and exiting buses via Acme Road. This will greatly reduce traffic congestion on Parkway South in the afternoon. It will also keep the buses single-file, instead of double-file as they have been, which is a major safety concern for students
• adding an overhang by the bus area so students can wait safely outside
The arguments against the QZAB money are usually that the Brewer Community School was just built, and the city can’t afford more, but the state paid for the BCS. And one popular argument is that the high school is not that bad. Lee begs to differ.
“Call my office,” he said. “We’ll give you a tour, and you’ll see.”