2015-02-06 / Front Page

Residents may get bond vote in June

RSU 21 building renovation project comes in under do-over target
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Following the summary rejection by voters one year ago of a $76.8 million bond put forth to renovate three RSU 21 schools, a rethink has pegged the projects at $58.37 million.

The school board had previously set a $58.6 million target for the revised plan it may now bring to voters for a bond vote as early as June.

Some have suggested that with a $40 million annual operating budget also in the offing for a June vote, a concurrent construction bond could be a “tough sell.” However, structural problems discovered two weeks ago at the Mildred L. Day Elementary School have increased the urgency for at least that portion of the project.

“You are basically under budget with the same scope that had always been envisioned for the projects. That’s the key message here,” said Dan Cecil, chief designer for Auburn-based Harriman Architects + Engineers.

Cecil spoke at the Jan. 26 school board meeting, laying out plans for Kennebunk High School, the Kennebunk Consolidated School, and the Mildred L. Day Elementary School in Arundel.

At the high school — the largest leg of the project, ringing in at $43.98 million — work will include construction of a new cafeteria, new administrative offices, new athletic lockers, a new half-sized gymnasium (designed to be expanded to full size at a later date), a 400-seat auditorium, new art rooms, a new band room, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) lab, and a wood shop, along with renovations to the existing auditorium and code upgrades to the building’s electrical and HVAC systems.

“We’re also filling in ‘under the bridge’ with new classroom space, so you’ll no longer be able to drive a car into the middle the school, radical concept that that is,” Cecil said.

Outside the high school, parking will be expanded to 400 spots and a new “loop drive” will be built around the school.

“That will be much, much safer, with one way in and one way out,” Cecil said. “It will greatly regularize traffic and enable cars to be separated from buses and, again, no more driving into the center of the building.”

Other work will include grinding down and refinishing the track, creating barriers to separate soccer fields from traffic, and reconfiguring the site’s “notorious” drainage system surrounding the football field, so that, as Cecil put it, “it’s no longer a danger to students.”

At Consolidated, $5.61 million in projected work will include construction of a new music room and public bathrooms, a means to separate classrooms from the public portion of the building, and two added classrooms to replace the current modular units on the site. Also included are code upgrades to electrical and mechanical systems, including addition of a sprinkler system. Outside, car, bus and pedestrian traffic will be separated with the creation of a new bus loop and a parent drop-off area. Parking will end up at 118 spots following the renovations, which will include installation of additional outdoor lighting.

At Mildred Day, the C and D wings will be demolished as part of an $8.77 million overhaul. New classrooms and administrative offices will be built, while the main entrance will flip to the opposite side of the building from its current location. Other new spaces will include a combination gymnasium and cafeteria, a new library and a multipurpose room. As at Consolidated, new public bathrooms will be added for after-school events, along with a means to separate classrooms from public portions of the building, while similar code upgrades will be undertaken.

The new parking lot will include 123 spaces, with a similar division of bus and parent drop-offs.

According to interim Superintendent Dr. Kevin Crowley, the only significant change in scope so far has been to lop off about 6,700 square feet from the original plan for the high school. Additionally, project manager PC Construction saved $1.4 million by reducing the amount to be set aside in contingency funds.

Other reductions recommended by PC include $250,000 from a possible state-ordered reconstruction of Fletcher Street and $130,000 from budgeted for the owner’s representative and the clerk of the works. Also, Crowley said, a simple accounting shift that amended where and when the state subsidy for the project is tallied realized a $57,000 savings. Combined, PC’s cuts have saved about $7.5 million from the amount predicted by the previous project manager, Consigli Construction of Portland.

After the failure of the original bond vote, the school board hired Consigli in August 2014 to manage the doover, with all eyes on a new referendum vote in November. However, within a month the school board elected to pull the planned bond vote when Consigli’s best price came in $8 million above Harriman’s prediction. That caused the school board to jump ship to PC in November.

But even at the lower price tag, some question the wisdom of putting the bond vote on the same ballot as the regular school budget referendum.

“I think it might be a pretty hard sell if we vote on both of those items on the same day,” said Kennebunk resident Ed Karytko.

“They see a $58 million bond and a $40 million budget and they do the quick math. That’s the reality,” said Kennebunk school director Jeffrey Cole. Petitions are currently circulating in Kennebunk and Aundel to withdraw from the school district, while forces in Kennebunkport are mulling a signature drive of their own, he said.

“That is going to add some uncertainly to a June vote as well,” said Cole.

“If all three of us withdraw, what’s left?” asked Kennebunkport director Robert Domine.

Given the presumed mood of the electorate, Karytko asked the board if it would consider dropping the elementary school portions of the renovation plan and moving ahead for now with just the high school rebuild.

However, Crowley said that was out of the question. Two weeks ago he was at the Mildred Day school when he noticed cracks in floors and walls that were not there as recently as five months ago. Aware that the C and D wings of the school, as well as the gym, have been sinking into the ground at about one half-inch per year since the 1980s, Crowley immediately checked on the gym. There he found what he feared — three of 10 ceiling trusses were visually pulling apart under the redistributed load.

“Because the building is settling as its weight squeezes water out of the clay soils, it’s stretching and it’s pulling arches apart that are supposed to be flush with one another,” Cecil explained.

This past weekend, braces were installed on all trusses and a policy was instituted to allow no more than five inches a snow to pile up on the building’s roof. In addition, engineers from Harriman will inspect the trusses every three weeks for the foreseeable future.

“We feel that building will be safe for your kids until such time as it is torn down,” Cecil told the school board.

But not all board members were convinced.

“I’m not sure we should be taking this risk,” Kennebunk director Lionel Menard said. “I would propose that we take the kids out and move them into the vacant classrooms we have in the other schools.”

“My two kids are in that gym every day, so it’s a very personal situation for me,” said Arundel director MaryBeth Luce. “I feel like they are safe. But we’re not talking about being in this building for five more years. We need to renovate it and we need to do it as soon as possible.”

According to Crowley, a June referendum will save the district $123,600 by limiting the heat and temporary enclosures needed for winter construction. It also would get the two elementary schools finished almost a year ahead of time. Kennebunk Director Matthew Fadiman also pointed out that interest rates are unlikely to be as favorable in November as they are right now, given historic 70-year lows.

Crowley added one additional savings might be realized in being able to bid out the RSU 21 jobs ahead of a $100 million school project recently approved in Sanford.

“If we can get out before them, we can get the subs before they get the subs,” he said, referring to various subcontractors to be hired.

The school board pushed back its regular meeting on Monday so its facility and finance subcommittees could meet this week to consider the latest numbers from PC and Harriman.

The full board will now meet on Monday, Feb. 9 to vote on the proposal. It will decide at that time whether to ask voters for their pecuniary blessing in June, or November.

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