The Community School District school board and board of trustees have approved a referendum question around funding an $89 million project for the Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor schools by bond. The motion to approve the draft language took place during an Aug. 8 joint meeting between the two groups and passed 11-1.
The question came at the recommendation of the building exploratory committee during their July meeting. The language will be refined by legal counsel before the public vote, scheduled for Nov. 7.
“I voted to bring it to the voters because they, at the end, are the ones who need to make this decision,” said School Board Chair Peggy Splaine. “For three to four years we have been doing our best guesses as a committee as to what the population here wants us to do. They need to weigh in.”
As reported in the Register, the potential project includes $15 million in major renovations to the middle-elementary school, including a $4 million addition, demolishing the Boothbay Region High School building and constructing a $47 million, 105,000 square foot high school with an auditorium.
During the meeting, Splaine and other members of the boards also pointed to the state of the aging buildings. “Voters also need to understand, its either $50 million to repair the building over 20 years, or possibly $89 million to build a new building that has those savings built into it,” Splaine said.
“It's too much money,” said Stephanie Hawke, who voted against the motion. “We’re losing families because they can't afford to live here. It’s a lot of reckless spending. We need to shrink it down.”
Several board members stressed that the Aug. 8 vote was not to approve or disapprove of the project or bond.
“If anyone authorizes to move forward with this, it does not mean that we are in favor, we just want it to go to the voters,” said board member Bruce MacDonald before the motion. “It’s up to the voters. We are not going to make any decision for the voters tonight.”
The boards also voted on a motion, raised by trustee Darrell Gudroe, to postpone the vote until May. The motion failed 9-2 with one abstention. Gudroe raised the alternative and asked what the drawbacks and benefits were of moving the vote.
According to Lance Whitehead, one of the lead architects on the project, there is a 7.5% escalation over 12 months that factors in rising cost of materials, labor and other economic and construction numbers. He said the sixth-month delay could add $3 million to the project.
Attendees filled the seats to capacity at the BRHS library, and others participated via zoom. Speakers questioned the high cost, showed support for the schools, or tried to understand what they saw as a confusing process.
Denise Griffin brought figures that showed enrollment declines and high building square footage per student compared to Bath and Sanford. Dan Zajdel said, for the number of students, the costs is “excessive beyond belief." He also expressed concern that the tax burden could push out of the district those families who are unable to bear the extra costs.
John Webster said he has employed the school’s graduates for years, and he sees it differently. “I would like to see a facility built here that is the envy of the entire Midcoast. There is a movie that says, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” he said.
Others echoed the board’s interest in letting the residents decide by vote. Tory Paxson said the building exploratory committee has done its due diligence and the question is too important not to put to the towns. Ruth Macy said further delays mean more repairs on the aging school structures, and more costs to taxpayers. “I think it's important that even if you're personally opposed to this to just let the voters decide,” she said.