Lavallee Brensinger Architects presented the Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District community with the final draft of the master plan, new building concept and recommendations for Boothbay Elementary and High schools Jan. 27. The firm’s Lance Whitehead said after over a year of meetings and surveys with community members, students and staff and weighing the needs and desires, the firm determined two options for the CSD: a $14.5 million band-aid or $44 to $49 million in renovations and consolidation.
The BRES building is in good condition and has a few Americans with Disabilities Act and security issues, undersized rooms and areas lacking natural light, said Whitehead; BRHS is in poor condition and in desperate need of renovation and correction to similar, but far more prevalent issues as BRES. If grading the physical state of the schools, Whitehead said he would give BRHS a D and BRES a B.
Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 Superintendent Keith Laser said the firm’s recommendation for renovation and construction will be an investment in education of the future and could draw students and families. “A family that considers moving to the area and they look at the high school right now – there's not much of an allure there ... There's a lot of 'new' going on all around (us), here, and that's competition. We're competing for folks to want to move to this area and to want to enroll their students in our school. This would be an opportunity to stabilize enrollment and increase it.”
Whitehead said incorporating some of the concept’s features into basic repairs is possible, but to include all the features would be “a stretch.” He said deferred maintenance includes replacement of heating and ventilation systems, lighting, gym equipment, casework in the science labs, roof, windows and plumbing. If the CSD continued attacking those needs separately, it would likely take a couple years before the CSD decides to bond out the rest of the projects; that cost would be around $1.4 million per year over roughly 15 years. If the CSD opted for the $49 million renovation and consolidation, a 30-year repayment plan under current bond rates would cost under $3.4 million per year or $2 million per year for Boothbay and $1.4 million for Boothbay Harbor. The project would be completed in about two and a half years and allow continued use of all of both buildings throughout construction.
BRHS Principal Tricia Campbell said the master plan project is very timely and Gifted and Talented Director Emily Higgins said it has created buzz among teachers and staff already. Said Higgins, “I do think the timing is good. The teachers at the high school are collaborating more and more and also at the elementary school ... One of the things that attracted me when I was hired here was the proximity of the pre-k through eighth facility and the high school … I think this is an interesting vision, definitely something to ponder the cost ... This is a possibility for our schools. There are really a lot of kids who could come here and stay here and I think this would really help make that happen.”
Next steps will take about a year and about $2.5 million in site investigations, technical engineering, site survey and wetlands analysis as well as design and curriculum finalizing, said Whitehead. “We could start a project and confidently during that time … refine all the estimates to know the bond rates, bond schedules and the payment schedules so we'd be able to come back ... and be very specific about (everything).”
Businessman and philanthropist Paul Coulombe offered to fundraise the $2.5 million in costs to make the project shovel ready. “I feel confident I could raise the $2.5 million on a local basis and get us to that point without taxpayer involvement if that makes it easier and more feasible and more palatable. I think the more information the taxpayer has, the better off you are … Then they can vote yea or nay and haven't put anything at risk up front.”
Laser said the potential for a public-private venture would need to be discussed with Maine Department of Education. Whitehead said many of the projects his firm has worked on have included donations. “Even in a state-funded process, there's always room for philanthropic donations or private donations as part of the project including whether it's up-front dollars for the first steps or whether it's naming opportunities and ventures as part of it.”
CSD School Committee member Ruth Macy said despite Coulombe’s history of generosity, it is important any project is done right. “I want to make sure that anything that moves forward doesn't move ahead just because money has been removed as an obstacle. I think that's really enticing, but I think we want something that stands up in the long run and I just want to make sure that the stakeholders and the people who need to be involved in the decision making that that's done well and right.”
Laser said he would check with the DOE to see if and how private donations are allowed. Whitehead reiterated the importance of a quick decision as construction costs go up about 4% per year and bond rates will never be as low as they are now.
Said Whitehead, “The goal when we started this master plan was to not create a master plan that was going to sit on a shelf and say 'someday.' We want to avoid (cost) escalation if we're going to pull the trigger on this effort. We'd want to do that now.”