Thursday, October 6, 2005

Editorial: Eyebrows in the sky

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Oct 6, 2005): The proposal that Scarborough taxpayers may be asked to cough up $54 million for a new intermediate school and a renovated middle school – on top of the $27 million already borrowed for the high school renovation and expansion – will no doubt raise eyebrows in town. Read about the idea on Page 1.

The $27 million high school is already the most expensive local-funding-only school project in the state’s history. Before the paint is even dry on that – and while there still remain questions about the building’s durability – the town’s school department wants to surpass it with a $35 million brand-new intermediate school and a $19 million renovation to the middle school.

After that, there’s the prospect that the town’s elementary schools could need expansion or replacement, according to Superintendent Bill Michaud. All three now hold some classes in modular additions.

It’s enough to make some seniors – many of whom have pledged support for more school building in exchange for a $1.2 million center to call their own – choke a bit on that promise.

While Board of Education Chairman David Beneman expects people will love the idea – he said it would be “exceedingly popular” – other board members are wary. Dianne Messer has an idea that might trim $19 million off the tab, but that would still leave what would still become the most expensive town-only school project in state history. Board member Christopher Brownsey accurately predicts the idea to spend that much money will be “a hard sell.”

And the school administration and its construction partners are not making that sell any easier. After the school board and the Town Council refused to pay for an independent review of the high school construction, the town’s code enforcement department required it.

And the study found some structural problems independent engineers fear might shorten the useful life of the high school building. They recommended the town, with project architect Harriman Associates and general contractor Pizzagalli Construction, purchase a long-term insurance policy to pay for any repairs that might be needed as a result of the structural deficiencies.

Now Harriman, already enlisted to plan for the upcoming $54 million in new building, and Pizzagalli are defending their work, saying there is no need for an insurance policy.

It’s great that they are so confident in their work, and they’re absolutely right. The town has no need for an insurance policy. The companies should agree to cover the costs of any repairs or other work required as a result of these possible shortcomings.

These are good companies, staffed by skilled, dedicated professionals. Their word, and a legally binding lifetime warranty (regarding just the problems identified by the outside engineers), should be enough. If they’re right, and the building is fine, they have nothing to lose. If they’re wrong, it’s their fault, and they should fix it.

If the companies are not sure their work is up to snuff, then they can decide how to pay for an insurance policy to cover the problems they have created. They have another option, of course: to go back in, rip out the problem areas – and work covering many of them – and replace it all up to proper standards, at their own cost.

The school department needs to stand firm, ensuring that Harriman and Pizzagalli provide exactly what the building agreement asked for, including adherence to all relevant building codes.

If voters are to have confidence that they will get $54 million worth of school building out of the new proposal, they need to be absolutely certain that they are already getting $27 million worth out of the construction they are already paying for.

Continuing next week
Our publication of Scarborough’s most recent property values, following the town-wide revaluation this summer, will continue next week. Roughly half of the list is in this week’s issue of the Current, on pages 13 through 20. They are sorted by street and house number. Please check back next week to get the rest of the data.

Jeff Inglis, editor