BRUNSWICK, Maine — A new elementary school could be in the town’s future if School Board discussions on Wednesday gain any traction.
But that could mean delaying renovation work at the junior high school.
The School Board also approved renovation of space below the Brunswick High School stage, at the request of the Fire Department.
Board members at Wednesday’s facilities meeting agreed that a $38 million project to renovate Coffin Elementary School and Brunswick Junior High School would be too costly for the town to do all at once.
While no action was taken, board members agreed they would like to explore building a new elementary school at the site of the shuttered Jordan Acres Elementary School and delay renovation work on the junior high for a few years.
They also agreed that any work on a new bus garage should wait.
Board member Rich Ellis said a capacity issue currently being faced by kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms makes construction of a new elementary school all the more urgent. It would also help move the town toward a future with no mobile classrooms, which have been used for the past few decades.
“We’re seeing growth within our school district,” Ellis said. “In our K-5 classrooms, we added 3-5 kids in every grade level.”
Board Chairman Jim Grant agreed.
“I think that needs to be dealt with,” he said. “For me that’s a priority and a crisis that needs to be addressed.”
Ellis said constructing a new school at the Jordan Acres site would mean that students wouldn’t have to move out of Coffin Elementary while construction happens. It would also give the junior high school an additional 10 acres of land.
Grant said the board will also consider any other potential sites for a new elementary school.
If the School Board takes formal action to go into this direction, it could prevent a large tax hike from occurring in one year. One bond scenario for the $38 million combined renovations project showed a possible 10 percent tax hike for the first year alone.
However, construction of a new elementary school and bus garage and major renovations on the junior high could cost the town over time, even if they’re not bonded in the same year.
A preliminary estimate on building an elementary school at the Jordan Acres site is about $24 million, according to the board’s architects.
Major renovations for Coffin Elementary would have cost the town about $18 million, while construction of a new school in its place would cost about $22 million.
Despite the larger cost, Ellis said construction of a new elementary school would benefit the town in the long run.
“To me, it would be foolish to spend $18 million on a 20-year renovation when you could spend a few more million dollars to get [a building with a longer lifespan],” he said.
Lyndon Keck of PDT Architects agreed.
“I want to stress that the operational savings would be huge if you built a new school instead of renovating at Coffin,” he said, though he added that his firm will have to develop a site plan for a new school at the Jordan Acres site.
Board member Janet Connors expressed concern over delaying work on the junior high.
“It’s been in extremely needy condition for a long time and I don’t think it’s fair or right that the students that go there have such a hurting facility and may have one that may not be meeting their needs,” she said.
Grant said he understands the situation, but added that it’s not urgent enough that the town should rush on plans now.
Renovations of the junior high school are estimated to cost about $13 million and would likely happen within three to five years of construction of the new elementary school, if the board decides to take this direction.
The board agreed that it will make a commitment to renovating the junior high and will not let it fall to the wayside.
Ellis said the delay could also allow the board to see if the Maine Department of Education would be able to help with a lower-interest-rate bond, as it did with Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School.
In the coming months, the board’s facilities committee will develop a plan for how to move forward.
At the beginning of the meeting, the board authorized more than $18,000 of renovation work on the space below the Brunswick High School stage that includes changing rooms and storage space.
Facilities Director Paul Caron said the renovations come at the insistence of the Fire Department, which said if the school doesn’t separate storage space from the gathering space below the stage, it would not be allowed to operate this fall because of fire code violations.
Caron said the School Department was told in early May it needed to act on renovations by July because of the large volume of set pieces and props being stored.
The project will be funded by $7,200 generated from theater rentals and $12,000 from energy cost savings throughout the district.
The board will decide at a later date where to create a new storage space for the high school’s theater program.