WINSLOW — As the work of the current committee tasked with figuring out what to do with the town’s junior high school has come to a close, a future panel will have to grapple with the costs of shifting students to the elementary and high schools while keeping in mind the town’s limited funding.

The current committee voted Thursday evening on an official recommendation to make to the Winslow School Board for where to place middle school students once the junior high school is closed, shifting the focus now from studying the problem to a solution — building.

The recommendation, which passed unanimously, was to house pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students at the elementary school and seventh- through 12th-grade students at the high school.

Some building committee members already have been chosen, and many were involved in the initial committee’s work of looking at the options the school system faced.

Winslow Junior High School, built in 1928, needs to be closed because it has chronic problems with ventilation, insulation and heating, among other defects, according to officials.

Stephen Blatt, who runs Stephen Blatt Architects in Portland, which was chosen to help design the project, presented some cost estimates to the committee at the meeting.

His firm determined that the high school would be less expensive to work on than the elementary school.

Construction to fit the sixth-graders into the elementary school would cost $500,000 and take one summer to do, he said, if the committee wanted a basic design.

Adding seventh- and eighth-graders to the elementary school and constructing a “basic expansion of support spaces” would cost $7.6 million. Constructing a more comprehensive space for what would be more than 700 students would cost $12.4 million.

The committee, however, chose to add seventh- and eighth-graders to the high school.

The “basic plan” for the high school expansion would cost $4.5 million and add 14,000 square feet in new classrooms, bathrooms, a STEM laboratory and a multipurpose classroom, among other additions. Adding a basic performing arts center would bring the total cost to $5.85 million.

An expansion plan with a full performing arts center of 7,000 square feet would cost $8.3 million.

Blatt also asked the committee to keep in mind that inflation has been increasing steadily by about 2 to 3 percent.

“Remember, every year it’s going to cost a few percents more,” he said.

Shifting the students to the other two schools is conservatively estimated to save $250,000 annually in heating and maintenance costs, superintendent Eric Haley said.

Some Town Council members, however, said there are other problem areas in Winslow that need attention besides the school, so more numbers have to be looked at to make an informed decision that won’t affect the tax rate harshly.

“You’re the school committee and you’re focused on the school and I get it,” Town Manager Michael Heavener said. “Some of us, on the other hand, have not just the school to worry about; we’ve got the entire town and the infrastructure to consider.”

Heavener said the town has lost some state funding, so it is playing “catch-up” with some things, such as road maintenance.

“This doesn’t come at quite the right time,” he said.

Councilor Ken Fletcher noted that the state cut revenue sharing from 5 percent to 2 percent.

“That’s $500,000 we’re not getting in Winslow,” he said, adding that $500,000 annually could let them take on a large bond. “We’ve run down our fund balance and we’ve held back on capital projects.”

On the other hand, he said, the more than $200,000 annual savings from closing the junior high would add up to more than $4 million over 20 years.

Councilor Raymond Caron requested that the superintendent put together a rough estimate of what the payments of some of the construction options might be, and that Heavener look at the town’s debt reduction over time so that they could see what the overall effect would be on Winslow’s tax rate.

Haley previously ran numbers through a computational tool the Maine Bond Bank provides to see what the annual cost would be for a $5 million project with an accelerated interest rate ending at less than 5 percent. The payments would be around $300,000, he said.

The performing arts center is something the committee had thought about before, and Haley said it would help improve the quality of Winslow’s school system.

People are looking outside of Portland for more affordable homes to start families, he said, “and they’re going to come this way at some point.”

Some audience members echoed that sentiment and said the school systems should be thinking about how to attract people to Winslow.

Whatever expansion proposal the building committee chooses will go to referendum in November 2017, Haley said.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour


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