ELLSWORTH, Maine — Councilors here on Monday overlooked an estimated $1 million price increase in a project to turn a school into a community center and opted to send the plan out to bid.
In June 2012, the price tag for transforming the former Bryant E. Moore School into a community center stood at about $3.65 million. Today, with a more defined plan in hand, that estimate totals about $4.67 million.
“When the original price came out, we knew there were some things that weren’t in there,” said Councilor Stephen Beathem, referring to budget lines for asbestos removal and contingency funding.
“Really, the $4.6 million doesn’t surprise me at all, and it doesn’t scare me,” Beathem said.
The project would see the former school on State Street renovated, retrofitted and modestly expanded to serve it’s new role as the Moore Community Center. The building’s two current tenants — a day care program run by the Downeast Family YMCA and a senior program operated by Friends in Action — would continue to rent space in the new building, which will be better suited to both their needs.
City officials say that despite the more expensive projection, they’ll still be able to pay for the project without using Ellsworth residents’ tax dollars.
Whatever bonds are issued in order to pay for the project will be paid off using Tax Increment Finance funds from the Leonard Lake Senior Housing development and the recently approved project by First Atlantic Health Care, which bought a portion of the Moore school’s athletic field to host its new senior living facility.
A portion of the price hike results from a plan to create an “atrium” within the compound. Originally planned to be a seasonal space without heating or cooling, the design has evolved into an indoor meeting and event space that will become a revenue stream for the city.
Early assessments of the building’s basic infrastructure turned out to be wrong, wrote City Manager Michelle Beal in a memo to councilors. Windows, plumbing and electrical systems are “much more deteriorated than originally thought,” she wrote.
Expense also has been incurred by plans to renovate the kitchen area to provide for breakfast, lunch, and hot “meals on wheels” for area seniors. Rounding out the extra expenses are interior wall resurfacing, expanded restrooms to meet code requirements and the creation of new parking.
Based on the presence of supporters at Monday’s meeting, the project has wide community support despite the increased cost.
“We have to keep the community and senior centers open here in Ellsworth,” said Sylvia Locke, a senior Ellsworth resident. “It’s a place where we meet and make new friends. Many seniors don’t like to go out at night, and this is one place they can go and socialize and do the things they’re interested in.”
Perhaps community support, the project not affecting the city’s tax rate or even both reasons, councilors were resolute in their backing.
Marc Blanchette, in his first meeting as a city councilor, said the city would be remiss to let the Moore school go to waste or fall into disrepair.
“Bangor did that with their Union Station in the 1960s, and ever since then people have lamented the fact that it’s gone,” he said. “I can’t see that happening with the Moore school.”
The vote to send the project out to bid was unanimous. Jim Wilson, vice president of civil engineering at Woodard and Curran, who has been working with the city on the plan, said the design will be ready for bids by the end of the week. It will be about a month before the city has vetted bids in hand for the council’s consideration.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.