Thursday, September 12, 2002

School renovation costs cut

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth school officials have been able to trim $1.6 million from the plans to renovate the high school, and say they are not yet finished.

Large questions remain about how classes will use space, and whether the changes need to be made all at once or can be made over time.

A meeting of several school department staff members, building committee members and project architect Bob Howe led cuts in the high school project from $9.2 million to $7.6 million, School Board and building committee Chairman Marie Prager told the board’s Finance Committee on Tuesday.

That brings the total, for renovations at the high school and additions to Pond Cove School, to $10.1 million, down from $11.7 million.

“We were able to shave down some of the dollars,” Prager told the Current in an interview. Specific details will not be available until a Sept. 26 meeting of the building committee, she said.

“We took out things that were obvious to all of us had to come out,” she said.

Among the cuts, Prager told the Finance Committee, were some site work and a $500,000 sprinkler system. Also reduced were costs to pave the rear parking lot at the school, now a gravel area. The original plan included relocating the road behind the school, but Prager said leaving the road where it is could save as much as $70,000.

Other savings may come in work that can be completed by the schools’ maintenance staff.

The cuts so far are preliminary and are subject to the decision of the entire building committee, Prager said.

The board will hold a workshop Sept. 24 on all-day or extended-day kindergarten, to decide if the addition to Pond Cove needs to be as extensive as it is planned. If all-day kindergarten happens in the next several years, said Superintendent Tom Forcella, “it would be foolish not to build space for it.”

Enrollment that continues to exceed even the high end of the district’s projections is also cause for concern. So is the timeline: The board would like to have the school bond available for a referendum on the town’s election day in May, if the Town Council sends the question to the voters.

Prager said the building committee may get to a point with the project
where they turn to Howe with a total dollar figure and ask, “what can we get for that?”

Board member Kevin Sweeney pointed out the importance of getting everything organized the first time, saying there would not be a second chance to get the project past the council or the public.

Board member Susan Steinman worried about the process being driven by the building project’s urgency, rather than educational priorities. “What population do we want to be serving, to what degree?” she asked.

Also undecided are the total cost and construction timeline. “Alot of things are up in the air,” Prager said.

Prager said she and board finance Chairman Elaine Moloney are laying the ground work for extended dealings with the Town Council this year.

“We realize that we’re all not going to always agree,” Prager said.

But she said it was important for the two bodies to keep in close contact, especially with money so tight. “We’re headed for difficult times,” she said.

Building committee meetings will now have minutes recorded. The minutes will be sent to members of the School Board and the Town Council, to keep everyone informed, Moloney said. She expects to give the council a budget update in December or January as well, she said.

Not all the board members are ready to go along with the plan of improving school-council relations.

Board member George Entwistle, who took a strong stand against council budget cuts during last year’s school budget process, warned Prager and Moloney against getting too close to the council.

“I am very cautious about inviting the fox into the henhouse,” he said. “There’s a fundamental difference of mission.”

At the School Board’s regular business meeting, which followed the finance committee meeting, the board heard from:
– Superintendent Tom Forcella that several groups of school staff were recognized on the first day of school for their hard work and dedication. They included the seventh grade teaching team for their work with the laptop program, the entire staff of Pond Cove school for its literacy accomplishments, the maintenance department for helping save money in energy and maintenance costs, and the high school science department for organizing the new high school science curriculum.
– Pond Cove Principal Tom Eismeier that while first-grade teacher Kelly Hasson was not selected as the Maine Teacher of the Year, “we still think Kelly Hasson would be our teacher of the year. ”
– Seventh-grade teacher Beverly Bisbee about the first few days of work with the laptops, accompanied by a digital photo slide-show to the music of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

The School Board will hold a workshop meeting on the subject of all-day and extended-day kindergarten, at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 24, in the high school library. The board’s next regular business meeting will be Oct. 8, at 7:30 p.m., in the Town Council chambers.