FREEPORT, Maine — Add the Town Council as another proponent of the $16.9 million Freeport High School renovation project headed to voters in Freeport, Pownal and Durham in June.
The council decided unanimously Tuesday night to put their support behind the overhaul, which includes building a new entrance, adding nine new classrooms and replacing the current grass field with an eight-lane track and athletic field.
In another vote, councilors also endorsed a resolution rejecting Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal, which they said shifts the burden of funding the state to local taxpayers.
Councilors said they supported the renovation project because the student population has outgrown the school, which also needs upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and to replace failing athletic fields.
Despite the unanimous vote, councilors said they need to remain cognizant of the effect on taxpayers.
“I just want to reiterate that we need to keep in mind that we should be fiscally responsible where we can,” said Councilor Andy Wellen, noting that the council needs to eliminate any extravagances or non-necessities in the coming budget deliberations.
“We have to be tough in these times to keep the mil rate down. I think it will help sell the project if we show that we’re working to keep the costs down,” Wellen said.
Councilor Rich DeGrandpre supported the project, but said he considered abstaining from the vote because of concerns about parking design problems and the overall cost.
“I have some concerns and some still exist,” he said. “I would prefer this had gone [to the ballot] in November when we would have a better cross-section of community. … [The project] is the largest thing we have ever done in this community. It’s important people get involved and we make this decision together.”
High school enrollment is projected to increase from 540 students today to more than 650 in the next decade, according to the Regional School Unit 5 report. The school renovation would accommodate those students and also allow for future growth by equipping a proposed 31,000-square-foot addition to support a third floor, and leaving the potential to convert study areas into classrooms.
As it’s designed, the expansion could accommodate up to 800 students before more additions are needed, according to figures from the design firm, Portland-based PDT Architects.
The tri-town voting block will decide on this issue in the June 11 election.
In an effort to show their opposition to the proposed state budget cuts, the council also voted unanimously to send a resolution to the state Legislature expressing their grievances.
Freeport follows other towns and cities that have written resolutions decrying the budget cuts as damaging to Maine communities.
The council noted that the proposed biennial budget would shift costs from the state to property taxpayers. They called on LePage and state lawmakers to maintain property-tax relief programs, continue to fully fund municipal revenue sharing and to reject proposed costly changes in the way business equipment is taxed.
According to the council resolution, the elimination of funds and changes in those programs would represent a 55 cent increase on the property-tax mil rates, or about a $110 increase to the tax bill of a $200,000 house in town.