BRUNSWICK, Maine — Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski admits the proposed construction of a new elementary school in Brunswick could be a tough sell.
With the price of the school ballparked at $24 million, a bond for its construction could go to a voter referendum in November. Following years of property tax hikes, the bond would likely contribute to another increase for the town in the 2017 fiscal year.
That’s why Perzanoski and the school board are hoping to hear from the public on the new elementary school proposal on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at a special meeting scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in Curtis Memorial Library.
At the meeting, the board will hear an update from Portland-based PDT Architects on site plans for the new building, proposed for the site of the former Jordan Acres Elementary School. The Jordan Avenue school building still stands, but has been empty since its June 2011 closure.
The board will then hold a question-and-answer session with the public — something Chairwoman Michele Joyce said is important for the process and serves as one of the reasons for the meeting.
“We definitely need public support behind this,” she said, “which is why we want to have them involved.”
While many questions may be answered at the meeting, there likely won’t be a more solid cost estimate for construction of a new school.
Lyndon Keck, of PDT, had previously said he doesn’t expect such a figure to emerge until late February or early March because the board decided in November 2013 to wait longer on how to address overall plans.
The only figure available now is a preliminary estimate of $24 million provided in March 2013, when the board learned that it would cost $38 million to simultaneously renovate Brunswick Junior High School and Coffin Elementary School.
The board decided to move forward with building a new elementary school because, based on that preliminary estimate, it would cost about $4 million more than it would to renovate Coffin. The renovation also would have forced the relocation of the school department’s bus garage, which is currently behind the school.
In addition, Joyce said investing in a new school would be a better option because it would have a longer life than a renovated building.
In ditching the dual renovation plan, the board also decided to hold off on major renovations at the junior high school, estimated to cost around $13 million, for a few more years in order to avoid making a larger tax increase necessary.
Next week’s meeting follows more than two years of deliberations by school officials and administrators on how to address the aging facilities of the junior high school and Coffin, which currently houses students in grades K-1 with a handful of second grade students and is the older of the two buildings.
The urgency of addressing facility needs became more apparent last fall when board members learned that a growing student population at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School, which currently houses students in grades 2-5, could force them to enact a temporary solution by next school year.
One of those possible solutions is adding more mobile classroom units to Coffin and shifting grades around the two elementary schools. An alternative would be to move fifth-grade students to the junior high school — an option board members seemed reluctant to advance last fall.
While a new, larger elementary school could ultimately solve the population bottleneck, it would come far too late for this fall, when Harriet Beecher Stowe is expected to exceed its 660-student capacity by 60 students.
Board members are expected to vote on a solution by March.
As for next week, the focus will be on how to best serve the long-term needs of Brunswick’s school system and how a new elementary school might fulfill that.
“It’s a reality of our needs right now for our students,” Joyce said. “And we’re doing the best with the facilities that we have, but there are needs that have to be addressed.”