Thursday, November 14, 2002

Cape reviews $9 million project

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth School Board members will take up discussion of a $9 million school building project at a workshop Nov. 19, to hammer out the details of a recommendation the board will make to the Town Council in January.

The full board got a comprehensive look at the project at its regular business meeting Tuesday.

Though all the town councilors were invited to attend the presentation, only three showed up: Council Chairman Jack Roberts, Finance Committee Chairman Mary Ann Lynch and Councilor Anne Swift-Kayatta. The meeting was broadcast on Cape’s community television station.

The project will allow the high school to accommodate increasing enrollment by reclaiming classrooms and administrative space now used for kindergarten and put the kindergarten back at Pond Cove School, with the rest of the elementary grades.

It will upgrade mechanical and electrical systems at the high school and add sprinklers to the 1960s-era building. It also will reconfigure teaching, instructional and physical education space and bring the high school into compliance with requirements for the disabled, such as reduced-height science lab tables.

“We are using our high school much differently today than we did 30 years ago,” said Marie Prager, who is both chair of the School Board and chair of the building subcommittee. “When the high school was built, we didn’t have special education,” she said, or computer technology.

Architect Bob Howe of HKTA Architects in Portland presented the options for work at the high school and Pond Cove separately, offering two options for each.

The more expensive high school option, at $9.4 million, would be, Howe said, an overhaul of nearly the entire building, including three small additions for the cafeteria, the entrance and physical education storage, as well as a large amount of exterior site work, including increased parking and disabled access to the upper field and track.

The second option, recommended by the building committee and likely to be more seriously considered by the School Board, is now proposed to cost $7.7 million, with the possibility that it could drop to $7.5 million.

Prager described the cheaper option as “what absolutely needs to be done” at the high school. Fewer classrooms would be renovated and the only addition would be for the cafeteria, which would be smaller than in the more expensive plan. Most of the cost savings would come from reduced work around the school, in the parking area and connecting roads and paths.

The expansion to Pond Cove would be an additional wing to offer new space for the kindergarten, which would otherwise not fit in the school for at least the next 10 years, Prager said.

The first option, slated to cost $2.5 million, would put on a two-story wing at the east end of the school, into the area between the new playground and the fire station. The upstairs would have four classrooms and space for group work, teacher work and occupational therapy services. The lower level would be built into the hill a bit and would provide two multipurpose spaces, as well as a basement-like storage area, Howe said.

The second and cheaper option, at $1.5 million, and more likely to be considered seriously, would provide a one-story addition, with five classrooms, group and teacher workspace and occupational therapy room. The addition would be ready for a second story to be
added in the future, Howe said.

Pond Cove Principal Tom Eismeier summed up the proposal by saying, “We simply don’t have enough room to bring the kindergarten back. The high school needs the space. I think we have to do it.”

The School Board will decide next month what to do and make a formal proposal to the Town Council in early January. Some or all of it could be placed on the town ballot for a May referendum. Lynch, who also serves on the building committee, has said in the past that the Pond Cove part of the project may not need to go to the voters.

Town Manager Michael McGovern told the board the town’s overall debt load was low as compared to the value of the buildings it owns.

The town has about 85 percent equity in its school buildings, and expects to pay off all of its school bonds by 2015, McGovern said. Because the schools will retire $1.7 million in debt next year, the $1.5 million Pond Cove project could be done “with no negative impact on the tax rate,” McGovern said.

Bonding out the $7.7 million high school project and the Pond Cove work over the course of the next several years, McGovern said, would put peak pressure on the town’s tax rate in 2006, when roughly $2.25 of tax per $1,000 of assessed value would be needed to provide debt service on school bonds. After 2006, the debt load would drop off “rapidly,” McGovern said, with the final payments in 2024 costing less than 50 cents of the tax rate.

The School Board will discuss the proposals at a workshop session at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, at the high school library. Public attendance and input is welcome. The board will then decide on recommendations at a meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Dec. 10, in the Town Council Chambers.