Thursday, November 7, 2002

Cape school building expansions at $9.2 million

Published in the Current

The School Building Committee will recommend the School Board approve a one-story, five-classroom expansion to Pond Cove estimated to cost $1.5 million and a $7.7 million renovation at the high school, including an expansion of the cafeteria to seat one-third more students than the current space allows.

That decision was made at a committee meeting Oct. 30, where it was also suggested that the Pond Cove project could be approved by the Town Council, but the high school expansion should go to voters.

Pond Cove expansion Committee member Sue Pierce said the one-story addition to Pond Cove is a better option, given tough economic times. “I think we’d have a better chance of getting it built and then expanding later,” she said. The one-story space would be structurally prepared to accept the addition of a second story in the future – an expansion needed if Cape ever adopts all-day kindergarten.

School Board and building committee Chair Marie Prager said the School Board members have indicated that the all-day kindergarten decision will be made by “a future School Board,” leading her to believe it won’t happen soon.

Committee members discussed at length the possibility of recommending the larger, two-story addition, either because they wanted the school to have the space, or because they were afraid of project cuts in the future and wanted bargaining room.

Pond Cove School Principal To m Eismeier said a one-story option with five classrooms, would provide space for the kindergarten to move into when it leaves the high school and would meet the needs of the elementary school.

Superintendent Tom Forcella said he thought going for a cheaper, smaller option at Pond Cove would make the money question easier on the high school.

“We know we’re dealing with another issue and the dollars are adding up,” he said.

In terms of Pond Cove, though, the school expansion may be possible without adding cost to the school budget.

Town Manager Mike McGovern said the schools were retiring $115,000 in debt service this year.

Borrowing $1.5 million, he said, would cost between $90,000 and $95,000 in debt service, allowing the schools’ debt load to decrease overall.

“You can essentially do it without increasing the school budget,” McGovern said.

High school renovation
Money is more of an issue at the high school, where renovation costs, higher than those for new construction, are driving the price far beyond an initially projected $2.5 million.

Renovating the 35-year-old school will involve interior work including reconfiguration of classrooms, administrative space and special education; adding some additional space to the cafeteria; and increased room for parking. A reworking of the lower field, a lighted playing space between the industrial arts wing of the school and the wetlands toward Gull Crest, is also part of the plan.

The lowest estimate presented to the building committee was just over $7.5 million, but the committee members, with the exception of Councilor Mary Ann Lynch and McGovern, decided to add $193,000 back into the cost, to pay for an expansion of the cafeteria, to hold 75 students more than its current capacity of roughly 200.

High School Principal Jeff Shedd said fitting more students into the existing space would require rearranging the school’s schedule and shortening class times to allow more lunch periods. “You lose academic time,” he said.

Prager and Forcella said overcrowding is already a big problem at lunchtime. Prager said the space needs to be larger, “so that there aren’t students eating in the hallway” and on the windowsill.

Lynch objected, asking whether the existing cafeteria could hold more kids if the tables were configured differently. “I go back to how many kids ate in that cafeteria in the 1970s,” she said.

She was also looking at the cost. She said she was trying to find “a number that feels good,” and had hit upon $9 million for both schools.

“That to me seems like a number that’s going to be a hard sell anyway,” she said.

Lynch said she still supports the project. “I’m prepared to sell it, and I think there’s a lot of need.” But she thought $9 million was going to be an upper limit.

School Board member Elaine Moloney said Lynch was looking at the project as a Town Councilor, and suggested the building committee come up with its own recommendation and let the School Board and Town Council make further revisions if they needed to.

Lynch said she wanted to be consistent, as a member of both bodies. She said she wouldn’t be able to say she supported one version of the project to the building committee but then oppose the same version when it came to the Town Council.

An additional cost to be added in to the project later will be any portable classrooms required to provide adequate teaching space during the renovation work. Because the specific timing remains unclear, that number is not now known.

Moving forward
The building committee will make its report to the School Board at its 7:30 p.m. meeting Nov. 12. McGovern advised all town councilors to get an advance look at the project, either by attending the meeting or watching it on local-access television.

He said they should also watch the School Board discussion and vote on the issue Dec. 10. He said he anticipated the Town Council would not get overly involved in questions about the specifics of the building plans.

“Basically it’s going to be fiscal capacity issues and timing issues, as opposed to digging into every last detail,” he said.

McGovern suggested the School Board propose bidding out the Pond Cove project one year and the high school work the following year, to better handle the impact. With the Pond Cove project alone, he said, “we would be retiring more principal than we would be borrowing.”

Lynch agreed, saying that might help the council approve the Pond Cove work outright and send just the high school work to a referendum.