Thursday, June 19, 2003

Board worried about more cuts in high school plan

Published in the Current

The Cape Elizabeth School Board is worried that town councilors will use a Monday meeting between representatives of the two boards to try and reduce the $7.5 million budget for the high school renovation – scheduled to go to referendum in November.

On Monday, June 23, from 3:30 to 6 p.m., there will be a meeting of three town councilors and three School Board members at Town Hall “to determine the amount of money that goes to referendum for the high school,” according to School Board Chairman Marie Prager, who was renamed head of the board last week.

Prager was speaking at a School Board workshop Tuesday. She said it did not appear that the joint committee would take public comment, though Monday’s meeting would be open to the public.

The committee will make a cost recommendation to the council by July 9, and the council will act to set the amount for the referendum vote during its regular July 14 business meeting.

The nature of the recommendation worried board members. With three members of each board, a disagreement could result in “no real recommendation,” board member Kevin Sweeney said.

“It seems to me to be a charade,” Sweeney said.

Board member George Entwistle agreed. “It seems like it’s an exercise in creating an appearance of some democratic process that doesn’t exist.”

When the Town Council decided in May to have a committee review the costs, councilors expressed concern that construction costs might have changed in the eight-month-old project estimates and wanted to make sure\ the dollar amount was correct before setting the amount to be sent to voters.

The committee will not discuss a proposed $1.5 million expansion to Pond Cove School, which has already been set for a November vote. It will talk about the $7.5 million proposed for the high school project – costs that initially started $2 million higher.

“We’ve already made the cuts” to get to $7.5 million, said Elaine Moloney, School Board finance chairman and a member of the newly formed review committee.

“There really is no real role for (councilors) to cut further,” she said.

She did say that the cost might go up as much as 3 or 4 percent, because of increasing construction costs.

The councilors are particularly interested in plans to expand the cafeteria, add a sprinkler system, make changes to the lower athletics field and locker room renovations.

All of those are detailed in documents drawn up by the School Board and its architect, Cape resident Bob Howe of HKTA architects in Portland.

High school Principal Jeff Shedd has written a letter explaining the need for a cafeteria expansion and the athletic field reconfiguration, Prager told the board.

The sprinklers, estimated to cost $500,000, are not required by the state fire code, but “our fire chief feels that it’s necessary,” Prager said.

The locker room area will be renovated to provide additional storage space and new locker room facilities, but the exact details have not yet been worked out, Prager said.

Superintendent Tom Forcella told the board the committee would only be able to look at the final dollar amount, and not make changes to the renovation plans themselves. If any plans were changed, they would have to be approved by the School Board.