The school buildings in Orono could be in for a $28 million makeover.
That’s if the school department made all the repairs and potential expansions suggested by an outside firm that recently completed a facilities survey at Asa Adams Elementary School and the building shared by Orono middle and high schools.
The projected cost of $28 million to address every item on the list is almost double what the school department expected when it ordered the facilities survey, Superintendent Meredith Higgins said.
“It has been 12 years since we had a facilities study, and our board felt like we needed a master plan for how to allocate resources,” Higgins said. “We undertook the plan last fall that took an extensive look at all the buildings.”
PDT Architects from Portland compiled a report after examining the school buildings, conducting community surveys and comparing their findings in Orono to the state Department of Education’s recommendations for school buildings. Staff from the firm will present their findings in a public forum Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Orono Middle School gym.
The forum “gives the public the chance to react to recommendations from experts and provide some feedback, which will help the board as they plan their way forward,” Higgins said. “For now, some of these projects will be locally funded, so it’s important to get the feedback of the taxpayers.”
The Asa Adams Elementary School building was constructed in 1956 as a single-story, wood-frame structure, and it was expanded in 1961 and again in 1972. The PDT Architects survey turned up the need to replace much of the school’s electrical system, including circuits, electrical panels and transformers — a $ 454,272 job.
The survey also found that the elementary school is not fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and that it’s difficult to access some parts of the building. For example, there is no way to access the music room without going through the shared gym and cafeteria space, and there’s no ramp or lift to get to the stage.
The elementary school’s exterior does not have proper insulation, according to an executive summary of the survey, which means increased energy use and thus, heating costs, for the school department.
The school department, Regional School Unit 26, would need to spend more than $2.8 million at Asa Adams to make all the infrastructure improvements mentioned in the report. The school currently enrolls 282 students and is expected to grow to 313 by the 2027-28 school year, according to projections from the New England School Development Council.
The combined high school and middle school building is even older, first constructed in 1938. Multiple phases of construction have made the building difficult to modify and have made the accessibility challenges greater than at the elementary school, according to the facilities study.
The report mentions a structure, sometimes called the breezeway, that connects the main corridor to the music portion of the building. The connector isn’t designed well, and it needs to be removed and rebuilt, according to the architectural firm.
The report also recommends replacing the original cast stone exterior of the building from 1938 and a range of electrical system upgrades.
The total cost for repairs and upgrades for the middle school and high school building would be $2.2 million. High school enrollment, currently 347, is projected to grow to 441 in the 2027-28 school year. Middle school enrollment, meanwhile, is expected to remain flat; it’s currently 166 students, and the New England School Development Council projects it will be 164 in 2027-28.
While the cost to make the recommended repairs and upgrades would be steep, Higgins said both Orono school buildings are functioning without immediate safety concerns.
“We’ve been doing patchwork repairs on things that need to be addressed sooner,” she said.
Besides repairs and upgrades, the report includes projected costs for new construction at the schools, such as a 600-seat auditorium at the high school. An auditorium came back as a top priority in a community survey conducted by PDT Architects. Its estimated cost would be $4.5 million.
The school department will release PDT Architects’ full facilities study at Tuesday’s public forum, and staff members from the firm will present their findings. In the following months, school board members will consider residents’ feedback as they decide which recommended upgrades and repairs to make.
Repair work is not scheduled to begin this year, Higgins said. School officials would use the upcoming months to plan and find the funds for the chosen projects.
Higgins said there’s a chance Orono could receive some state money for upgrades and repairs.
“Part of our plan is to set aside some projects that we think have a high chance of being funded,” she said.
The facilities survey cost the school department $60,000.