June 24, 2018
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Brewer residents to vote Tuesday on $5.4 million school bond referendum

Brewer High School front facade and site concept
By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

BREWER, Maine — The Brewer High School campus needs work, mayor and former principal Jerry Goss said recently while discussing the $5.4 million school bond referendum to improve the school that voters will decide on Tuesday.

“It looks like urban renewal waiting to happen,” he said.

If residents approve the interest-free bond, the front of Brewer High School would be modified to create one main entrance and improve security. The project also calls for adding a 100-seat lecture hall, moving administrative offices, improving the capacity and look of the cafeteria, and adding a new bus lane that connects with Acme Road.

Polls will be open at Brewer Auditorium from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

While only Brewer residents will vote, the outcome of the referendum will have an impact on Dedham and Orrington, which have a contract with Brewer for their tuition students that allows the city to charge up to 10 percent of the tuition rate for debt associated with improving Brewer High School.

“It will be very minor,” Superintendent Daniel Lee said recently of the cost to the two towns.

Gretchen Gardner, the school department’s business manager, ran the numbers for the Bangor Daily News based on the current student population for both Orrington and Dedham, and it resulted in a 5.8 percent increase to the sending communities’ tuition rates.

“It would go into effect when we started making principal payments in 2017,” she said Monday, stressing the number of students, and therefore the costs, could change dramatically in the next five years.

Brewer High School had 709 students enrolled in April 2012; 94 came from Orrington and 33 came from Dedham.

The cost to Brewer taxpayers essentially will be flat because payments for the improvements would not start until other debt is retired in 2016, Gardner explained.

School officials learned nearly a decade ago that there was little chance the state would pay to replace Brewer High School, which was built in 1958 and has been renovated seven times in the past five decades. Instead, they went after and received funds to build the now complete pre-K-through-eighth-grade Brewer Community School.

School officials have spent several years discussing how to make improvements at the high school without increasing costs to residents, and decided to pursue a federal bond, Lee said.

Brewer was awarded a $5.4 million Quality School Construction bond for the high school through the Maine Department of Education, which also awarded money to Portland.

If Brewer doesn’t accept the money, it will be awarded to another school district, Lee has said.

The reason the vote in taking place this month, instead of during the already scheduled November elections, is to allow for a second vote in December if residents reject the proposal, city councilors were told in April.

If the referendum is approved, work at the high school would begin in June 2013 and be completed in the spring of 2014.

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