Thursday, March 13, 2003

School Board cans Hamlin idea

Published in the Current

The numbers seem to show that Town Council Chairman Jack Roberts’ proposal for Cape Elizabeth to take over or share South Portland’s Hamlin School would cost more than either building an addition to Pond Cove School or renting portable classrooms at the school.

South Portland also has told Cape there would be no chance for a long-term lease agreement. Instead, the longest lease Cape could look for in negotiations would be a single year, Superintendent Tom Forcella told his School Board at a finance committee meeting Tuesday night.

Roberts had suggested using the Hamlin School to house Cape Elizabeth’s kindergarten, now housed at the high school.

Cape Business Manager Pauline Aportria spoke with her counterpart in South Portland and learned that a lease of the building would cost roughly $86,000 for the first year, which would include heat, electricity, water and sewer fees and snow removal. Telephone lines and staffing the building with a custodian and a receptionist/secretary would cost an additional $74,200.

That would bring the Hamlin proposal in at $160,200 for the first year. Aportria expected that costs would rise 3 percent per year. The worksheet Aportria distributed did not include projections for a nurse, special education travel costs or any other incidental expenses.

“If anything, the number at the Hamlin School could be higher,” Forcella told the board. Finance Chairman Elaine Moloney said it was unclear what, if any, money would be available from the state as an incentive to carry out the Hamlin plan and offset its costs.

By contrast, the cost of renting and operating portable classrooms at Pond Cove for the kindergartners would start at $97,300 for the first year, and would drop to nearly $48,000 in the second year. After a third year of leasing (at $49,000), the district could buy the portables in five annual payments of roughly $74,000 each. Board member Kevin Sweeney warned bringing portables into compliance with future building codes could be expensive.

Building a new addition at Pond Cove would cost $139,000 in debt service and operating costs in the first year, would rise to $165,500 in the second year, and would decline each year for the 20-year life of the loan.

The board also agreed that the size and location of the Hamlin School were unsatisfactory. “Our kids would be in another town, which is not an ideal thing,” Forcella said.

“We’ve been trying to get those kids out of the high school, and now we’re going to ship them out of town?” Sweeney asked rhetorically.

Moloney said she was opposed to the Hamlin idea both because it costs more and because it “defeats the purpose” of the School Board’s efforts to get the students together in buildings housing grades K-4, 5-8 and 9-12.

Roberts, in an interview Wednesday, questioned whether the $86,000 figure for school rent was realistic. He said South Portland has rented other buildings to non-profits for lower rates per square foot. He also did not know whether control of the building would revert to the South Portland City Council if it were not being used as a school.

If the numbers do end up showing the Hamlin idea to be more expensive, Roberts said he would not be discouraged. “I’m not married to that proposal,” he said.