Brewer discusses future school bond, November referendum

Posted Sept. 09, 2013, at 10:03 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Residents approved a $5.4 million interest-free bond by referendum last year to renovate the Brewer High School campus and add security, and in November will head to the polls again to decide whether to accept another $2.7 million bond.

“The Brewer High School trustees have been approved for a $2.7 million technology grant [for] a new floor for the gym, improve security, technology and academic areas,” trustee chairman Dan O’Connell told the Brewer School Committee. “It will help move our students forward.”

The school board set Nov. 5 as the date for the local referendum on the second school construction bond.

“This is an interest-free bond,” Superintendent Jay McIntire said. “That is the fiscal advantage to the city. [The savings is] somewhere in the area of $800,000 over the term of the loan.”

Brewer was awarded the $5.4 million Quality School Construction bond for the high school last year through the Maine Department of Education, and learned in February about the second award.

Phase one of the project, which is underway and expected to be complete next spring, will add a 100-seat lecture hall where the principal’s office once was, move administrative offices over near the gym and improve the bathrooms, add a new exit connecting the school property to Acme Road, and improve the capacity and look of the cafeteria.

The cost for phase one for Brewer taxpayers will be essentially flat because payments for the improvements don’t start until other debt is retired in 2016, Gretchen Gardner, the school department’s business manager, has said.

How the community will pay for the phase two bond is something the school board and City Council will discuss at a special meeting later this month. Two options were put on the table Monday, one that starts with small debt payments in 2016 that steadily increase to $250,000 by 2031, and a second with a fairly steady payment of about $145,000 annually between 2016 and 2034, O’Connell said.

“There is no question that this will have an impact on taxes,” the he said. “This is going to cost money and it’s going to be tax money.”

Orrington school board chairman Glendon Rand stood up during the public comment portion of the meeting to remind the board that it’s not only Brewer residents who will pay for the renovations.

“I would just like to remind you that this project will have an impact on the communities of Orrington and Dedham,” he said.

The two neighboring communities have a contract with Brewer for their tuition students which allows the city to charge up to 10 percent of the tuition rate for debt associated with improving Brewer High School. Rand wanted an update on negotiations for a tuition contract with sending district SAD 63, which includes the communities of Holden, Eddington and Clifton, and was told by chairwoman Janet McIntyre that they have had “no luck.”

Just before last fall’s referendum on the first bond, Gardner ran the numbers 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 at the time, stressing the number of students, and therefore the costs, could change dramatically in the next four years.

Brewer High School had 709 students enrolled in April 2012; 94 came from Orrington, 33 came from Dedham, and SAD 63 sent about 140.

During the meeting, the board also voted to increase admission fees for winter athletic events, starting Dec. 1, to help cover the cost of playing basketball games at the Cross Insurance Center while the renovations at the high school are underway.

Gate fees will increase from $4 to $5 for adults and from $2 to $3 for students. Season passes, which are $20 up until December, will increase to $25. Those age 62 or older get in free, with identification.

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