Orono resident Nancy Marks has a 15-year-old son who attends Orono High School today, but she remembers much of the school building where he takes classes being the same as it was in her days as a student.
She recalled performing on the stage of what she called the “cafetorium,” a shared cafeteria and gym space at the high school that has gone years without an update.
That update may be coming soon along with many others as the school department prepares to present a bond worth $16 million to voters this June that would pay for additions to the town’s school buildings, including a new 460-seat auditorium, a track and new classrooms.
On Thursday night, Superintendent Meredith Higgins, school board Chairman Brian McGill and architect Lyndon Keck from Portland-based PDT Architects briefed Orono residents about the planned updates, which include multiple renovations to both of Orono’s school buildings and construction of nearly 35,000 square feet of new space.
“Our buildings are showing their age,” Higgins said. “We want to make sure the facilities meet the needs of students for the next 10 to 15 years.”
The school board in December narrowed the scope of work down from $28 million in potential improvements to $14 million, and formed four subcommittees to focus on different priorities: the Asa Adams Elementary School building, the building shared by Orono Middle and High schools, performing arts and athletics infrastructure.
At the community forum on Thursday, McGill presented the tentative costs of each project the subcommittees had prioritized.
“This is really the big opportunity to give us any feedback you have,” he said.
The middle- and high-school building, first constructed in 1938, would undergo repairs and additions worth approximately $6.3 million, including the addition of four new classrooms and two music rooms, and a new cafeteria and kitchen.
The additional classrooms are planned because high school enrollment is expected to grow by 100 students in 10 years, rising to 441 in 2027-28 from 335 today, according to projections from the New England School Development Council.
The high school update would also include a new auditorium expected to cost $4.3 million. It would be large enough to host all Orono school events except graduation, McGill said.
Asa Adams Elementary School would gain a security vestibule near the entrance. The architects’ plans for the school also include seven new support spaces where students could meet with social workers and school psychologists, and participate in speech therapy, occupational therapy and special education sessions. Higgins said those spaces are necessary to meet changing educational needs.
The plans for the elementary school also include a new cafeteria and a larger kitchen.
The total cost of upgrades and additions to the elementary school building would be $4.5 million, McGill said. The school’s enrollment is expected to increase to 313 by the 2027-28 school year; it was 272 in October, according to the Maine Department of Education.
Orono’s updates would also include a new track and athletic field worth $1.4 million and expanded parking to accommodate 90 additional vehicles.
The building improvements would also include electrical system upgrades and roof maintenance.
Plans specific to Orono Middle School are on hold for now, Higgins said. The middle school population of 166 students is projected to stay more or less the same in the coming decade.
“Simply because of age, it holds the best chance of being a state-funded project,” Higgins said.
Residents on Thursday asked school officials how a $16 million bond would affect property taxes. The exact impact isn’t yet determined, McGill said, but he estimated an annual increase of $200 to $400 for an average Orono home with a property value of $170,000.
After the presentation, Marks said she was most looking forward to a new auditorium at the high school.
“The kids and the staff really deserve this space,” she said.
Her son, Jeremy Marks, sings in show choir.
“I’m willing to bet the basketball team will be happy they won’t have to compete with us for the gym,” he said.
The school board will discuss feedback from Thursday’s public forum during a Friday afternoon meeting.
“I want the community to know that we’ve been very thoughtful because we understand that a $16 million bond is a significant tax impact,” Higgins said.