2015-02-27 / Community

Board sends building bond to June vote

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

Although there was a fair amount of handwringing about voter reaction, all hands at Monday’s meeting of the RSU Board of Education went up in favor of taking a $57.7 million building bond to referendum in June.

Monday’s unanimous decision will be followed at the next school board meeting, March 2, with a vote on exactly how much voters will be asked to borrow to fund renovations to Kennebunk High School, Kennebunkport Consolidated School and Arundel’s Mildred L. Day Elementary School.

One year ago, voters killed those projects by turning down a $76.8 million bond request. Since then, school officials have lopped off more than $10 million from the high school rebuild, while cutting its planned expansion by roughly 11 percent. Meanwhile, $4.3 million has come off the Consolidated School, thanks to a 21 percent reduction in square footage, and $2.5 million was cut from the Mildred L. Day School, which is now expected to grow just 818 square feet from its existing footprint.

That,alongwitha3percentreductionto contingency funding and other cuts — chiefly a $250,000 rebuild of Fletcher Street, which officials no longer believe will be necessary, or at least not as costly — dropped the total price tag to $58.37 million by the time the school board met in January.

Since then, the board’s building and finance committees have made additional cuts, totaling more than $675,000. Gone is a concession building at the high school, saving $50,000, while kitchen renovations have been slashed by $25,000 at the high school and $50,000 at Mildred L. Day. Covering second floors in corrugated steel siding, instead of the masonry work previously envisioned, will save nearly $60,000, while repurposing instead of replacing an existing elevator will save $80,000. Meanwhile, 25 high school lockers have been excised, leaving a total of 200, which saves nearly $8,000.

Renderings prepared by Auburn-based Harriman Architects + Engineers of show renovated facades at Kennebunk High School, Mildred L. Day School and Kennebunkport Consolidated School might look, if voters approve a $57.7 million bond in June to finance the projects. 
(Courtesy images) Renderings prepared by Auburn-based Harriman Architects + Engineers of show renovated facades at Kennebunk High School, Mildred L. Day School and Kennebunkport Consolidated School might look, if voters approve a $57.7 million bond in June to finance the projects. (Courtesy images) In addition, the school board voted Monday to remove $258,395 from the project that was to have gone into rebuilding the outdoor track at the high school. Funding for that work will now come from the capital improvement projects portion of the annual budget, as will $96,146 to repair and repoint brickwork. The brick job will be done this summer, said interim Supertintendent Kevin Crowley, while options for the track will be assessed once the snow melts and an inspection can be made of its present condition.

In all, the recent cuts have dropped the projected cost of the building renovations to $57.7 million, although that’s not yet set in stone.

“This is a organic number and is not fixed until the board votes on a ‘not-to-exceed’ number next Monday,” Crowley said. “Still, we have made significant progress on our goal to bring the projects to the public in the most affordable manner possible.”

Crowley urged the board to set a June referendum date. The project manager, PC Construction, has predicted it can save the district $123,600 if it does not have to wait until after a November bond vote to get started, he said. In addition to cutting some winter construction costs, PC has said the early start promised by a June vote also will get both elementary schools finished a full year ahead of schedule.

Additionally, Kennebunk Director Matthew Fadiman said that even a quarter interest hike in interest rates, now at historic lows, between June and November, could add $600,000 or more to the total cost of the project over the 20-year life of the bond.

“When we take those into totality, there seems to be no offsetting reason in favor of November,” said Crowley.

Even so, with an operating budget set to top $40 million and word circulating of a potentially significant increase in Kennebunk’s municipal budget, some school board members seemed nervous about putting too much on one ballot

“We are going to be asking for a huge amount at once,” Kennebunk Director Brad Huot said. “We’ve been working on this for four years now and I would hate for that effort to get lost in voters and taxpayers having blinders on and seeing all this money in front of them and saying no to everything, which we’ve seen before.”

While most school board members agreed a June vote carries some risk of rejection, most ultimately sided with Kennebunkport Director Amy Johnson.

“Everyone here is concerned with taxes, but the time is now,” she said. “I was particularly rattled recently when two out of three children came home and said they had buckets in their classrooms because of leaking roofs. The time is now.”

Many of the planned renovations are driven by health and safety considerations, particularly at Mildred Day, where one side of the building has settled 18 inches since it was built, causing supports to separate which hold up the gym roof. Repairs were recently made and Crowley says an engineering report on the building is due in his hands this week.

At Mildred Day, if the proposed bond is approved, 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, while new public bathrooms will be added for after-school events, along with a means to separate classrooms from public portions of the building.

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, work that will be mirrored at Mildred Day.

At the high school — the largest leg of the project, ringing in at more than $43 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.

At all three locations, car, bus and pedestrian traffic will be separated with the creation of new bus loops and parent drop-off areas.

Although a final price tag is still a week away, many on the school board seemed relieved to have a decision on when hold the bond vote in their rearview mirrors.

“Well, now we have a date to work toward,” said school board Chairman Maureen King.

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