Orono’s school department wants to ask voters for permission to borrow millions of dollars to pay for school building repairs and, potentially, a new performing arts center and upgraded athletic fields. The school district hopes to put the question to voters in June, though they have not settled on the size of the potential borrowing package.
Talk of a borrowing question comes after a survey of the town’s school facilities by PDT Architects, released last month, proposed repairs, updates and additions to both Orono school buildings worth $28 million. School officials held a community forum after the firm completed its work to collect public input about the building suggestions.
“We’re at a transition stage from a very broad assessment to actually turning the corner to figuring out what we’re going to do,” said Brian McGill, chairman of the school board. “The four committees we set up clearly indicate the direction we’re heading.”
The board last week decided to form four subcommittees to divide up the facilities work.
One subcommittee each will focus on the town’s two school buildings: Asa Adams Elementary School, where 282 students are enrolled, and the combined middle and high school building, where 513 students are enrolled.
Parents and community members at last month’s facilities forum also chose performing arts and athletics infrastructure as priorities, so the board has formed two additional subcommittees focused on those areas. Each subcommittee includes community members, parents, school administrators and school board members.
The elementary school subcommittee is working within a budget of $4.7 million, the combined middle- and high school-building subcommittee has a $4.9 million budget, the performing arts subcommittee is working within a $3.5 million budget, and the athletics subcommittee has a $1.1 million budget.
Each subcommittee will select projects from the PDT facilities report that fit into the assigned budget.
But this is just a starting point, and actual amounts might change, Superintendent Meredith Higgins said. During the next six months, subcommittee members will select repairs or additions for their buildings or educational programs from the initial report provided by PDT Architects, and coordinate with the firm to develop detailed plans and budgets for each.
“Assuming we have this amount of money, what would the project look like, what should be the priorities and what are projects that maybe we should put aside for other funding sources?” she said. “That kind of work is what they’re doing.”
At the Nov. 13 school facilities forum, the school department asked each attendee to divide a hypothetical amount of $15 among the project categories they would prioritize, such as essential repairs or a performing arts center.
The categories were then ranked by the amount of total money attendees designated to each one, which revealed that parents and Orono residents prioritized urgent repairs to both school buildings.
A close second priority was a proposed 600-seat auditorium, which PDT estimated would cost $4.5 million. The performing arts subcommittee could decide to scale down the auditorium, or try to find additional funding from state or federal sources.
“We hope to take a bond before the voters in June,” Higgins said. “We just aren’t able to say right now what the amount will be. We know that $28 million is not realistic, so we’re starting with this.”