KENNEBUNK, Maine — The Kennebunk High School Building Committee presented two plans to the Regional School Unit 21 Board of Directors on Monday night, offering a glimpse into the debates to come as the board makes its decision on the plan it will take to voters in November.
While the committee presented a plan called A1, which meets the $42 million project scope set by the board in March, Chairman Jason Gallant said the group unanimously voted not to support that plan because of its “inherent inefficiencies and functional deficiencies.” Instead, the committee supports plan B1.1, priced at $43.68 million, which was described as a more efficient and compact plan that better meets needs.
Monday’s meeting was the first time the RSU board has seen the committee’s most recent iterations of renovations for KHS, since setting the $42 million charge. The board voted in March to give the building committees for all three renovation projects a target of bringing forward revised plans at a target cost of $55 million — $42 million for KHS, $9 million for M.L. Day and $4 million for Consolidated. The projects, as they are being discussed, are estimated at $58.6 million.
“I want people to feel that we have heard you and we are continuing to work on this to get it as close to the numbers as we can,” Chairman Maureen King said of the $55 million target. “Those were numbers that were pulled out of thin air, and I’m not sure how close we’re going to get, but we’ll do our best.”
The $55 million target set by the board, and its coverage in local press was a point of contention Monday night, with board members saying the figure was selected arbitrarily to give the building committees a scope. Board member Bob Domine said the $55 million figure was “written about in the paper and then became the third tablet from Moses.”
“We’re not done yet,” King said. “We still have quite a bit of time before we have to put a number on a warrant.”
The district has received approval for a construction manager, who should be in place in late August, to oversee all three projects. That person will work to finalize the project budget, getting it as low as possible, King said.
“One of the reasons we are excited about the construction management process is that they will help us work on those numbers and I do think we will see some change,” she said. “We’re continuing to work this budget.”
The focus, said Interim Superintendent Kevin Crowley, should not be on a number, but rather on the right project. In March, the board voted 7-5 in support of the $55 million target cost, but that same night also discussed a target of $59 million, Crowley said.
“It’s more important that we get this right than that we hit a number,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that $55 million was out there, but that same night, $59 million was out there. The vote was only 7-5. So there was a split board at that number.”
Board member Jeff Cole said there is no doubt there are needs and wants at each of the three facilities, acknowledging the amount of time and passion the committees have put into the plans.
“At the end of the day, it gets down to what’s the capacity of a community to afford an investment of a certain size,” he said. “We saw resounding defeat at $75 million. Right now we are approaching $60 million.”
Monday night’s discussion, Chairman of the Facilities Committee Tim Hussey said, “is the beginning of the debates for the board.” Hussey said he envisions a motion before the board during its Aug. 4 meeting “for a number,” though he said that “doesn’t mean it’s the final number.”
The $55 million was an arbitrary number, Hussey said, and the $75 million failed plan was the “bottom number that we felt we all needed.”
“So now it’s our job to say ‘What is the number that the voters will approve?’” Hussey said. “Now we have seen what we get for that $55 million. We also have seen what we can get for $58.6 million, which are the recommendations that have come out of the committees.”
Kennebunkport resident Chris Perry told the board members they need to grapple with the question of whether they want to bring forward a $55 million plan, as has been the target set by the board, or “get involved with budget creep.”
“My personal suggestion to the board is that $55 million for a bond issue is a number that was created very much in an off-hand basis,” he said. “It was not a scientifically devised number, but it was a suggestion that was made and it was latched on to as being something to work with and something to move forward with. There is nothing certain that $55 million will pass. Every cent that you get above $55 million is one step closer to being sure that it won’t pass. My encouragement is to take it and stick with what got printed in the press and what got pulled out of thin air at one point in time.”