WINSLOW — The building committee working on consolidating the town’s schools received state approval to hire a manager for the project last week.

The committee applied to the Maine Bureau of General Services to do an alternative build, which allows public organizations such as schools to hire a project manager. The manager provides updated cost estimates, pre-screens and manages all subcontractors and ensures student safety as construction carries on during the school year.

In August 2016 the Winslow School Board approved a recommendation to expand the high school to house seventh- through 12th-grade students and renovate the elementary school to house kindergarten through sixth-grade students.

The board also voted to close the junior high school within three years. The cost of repairing the junior high, built in 1928, would have been $3 million, and the building would have been left relatively cramped and inefficient. Every window needed to be replaced, the gymnasium floors were pulling up and the building is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Stephen Blatt, who runs Stephen Blatt Architects in Portland, is designing the project for the committee and recommended it apply for an alternative build.

“From my experience, it frequently finishes a little bit early, and it never finishes under budget, but it also never finishes over budget,” Blatt said at a previous committee meeting.

The construction manager will be critical in keeping the area safe for students, Superintendent Eric Haley said. “We need someone who is going to be policing these construction workers.”

The manager will ensure not only that the construction is safe and does not interfere with students as they go about their day, but also that the workers behave themselves.

Typically, publicly funded buildings are put out to bid to contractors and the organization is required to choose the lowest bidder. The winning contractor also gets to keep as profit the difference between the bid and how much he or she spends to build the project.

The next step for Winslow is to put out bids for construction managers, then have a subcommittee interview the candidates. Haley expects they’ll probably have a manager by mid-May.

“Then we got to get this thing whittled,” he said, referring to the design for the project.

The building subcommittees have started working on what they would like to see for their areas. A preliminary cost estimate for the renovations and additions is $10.55 million, but that’s including everything on the wish list, Haley said.

One item of contention is the performing arts center. A 9,260-square-foot model that seats 600 people would cost about $2.32 million, according to Blatt’s design.

Some people see the center as a recruitment tool that will draw new residents into town and provide an important space for students, Haley said. Some studies show the arts attract residents and businesses, though the studies’ methodologies have been criticized.

The town and others think the center’s cost is too high, and they want to go with a cheaper model.

During the last renovation in the district, the school “took some shortcuts,” Haley said, and some are warning against doing that a second time.

Haley doesn’t want to solidify anything until a manager is in place, as he or she could provide insight about how they could save money.

“I think at this point everything’s got the potential to be cut,” he said. “I’m trying to get in place a facility that will take care of the children to come for the next 20 to 30 years.”

After a design and budget are in place, the committee will host public presentations in September and October to get community feedback. The town will vote in the November referendum on the bond, which Haley hopes to get from the Maine Bond Bank.

The town would prefer to remain debt-neutral, meaning it wants to take on only as much debt as it’s retiring by that time.

That would leave the town looking to bond about $2 million and the school for about $4.47 million.

Haley plans to present the potential cost savings from consolidation, which would be about $250,000. He expects there may be more savings down the line as more efficiencies regarding personnel are found.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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