WINSLOW — Local officials plan to discuss what to do about a planned school renovation project that, according to a recent announcement, is potentially millions of dollars over budget.

The Town Council and the school board will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday  at the Winslow Town Office. They plan to enter executive session to consult with town attorney Bill Lee. Winslow Town Manger Mike Heavener said no official action will be taken after the executive session.

“It’s basically going to be a conversation they want to have with the town attorney regarding the school renovation project and the fact that the cost came in much higher than estimated,” Heavener said. “I think they just want to get a legal opinion on what sort of options they have.”

Heavener said a discussion about whether the options need to go before voters again “may come up.” Asked about the possibility of suing Stephen Blatt Architects, Heavener said that might also be discussed.

Members of the public brought up both of these ideas at a Feb. 12 meeting, when officials first revealed that the project would cost more than initially anticipated. Doug Breer, an architect with Stephen Blatt Architects, and Peter Pelletier, construction manager with Ledgewood Construction, cited rising construction costs as the reason for the inaccurate projection they initially had given, and they presented four options for Winslow to consider.

Architect Doug Breer, left, and construction manager Peter Pelletier show plans on Feb. 12 for the Winslow school renovation plan that could reduce the project’s budget overage. Morning Sentinel photo by Meg Robbins

If the town pursued the full design voters approved as part of the $8.1 million bond they passed in June, it would cost a total of at least $11.225 million to implement. The other options all include nixing the idea of an expanded auditorium and creating a band and chorus space instead. Doing that alone would put the project at least $1 million over budget. Removing the cafeteria renovation from the plan would put the plan $776,000 over budget, and removing the gym renovations would be the least expensive option, still coming in over $160,000 more than what voters approved.

The school renovation project has been a hot-button issue for the town of Winslow for years. The initial proposal for a $10.3 million bond was rejected by voters in November 2017. That sum later dropped to $8.6 million, which the Town Council rejected, and then to the $8.1 million that voters approved — albeit by a narrow margin of 56 votes.

At the Feb. 12 meeting, Winslow resident Phil St. Onge said that the citizens of Winslow would likely have strong opinions about which facilities to renovate if the project couldn’t encompass all that voters thought they had approved with the passage of the $8.1 million bond. St. Onge, who is also assistant principal of Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, asked how Winslow officials couldn’t take the matter back to a townwide vote if they are conceding the architect “screwed up.”

“I know a ton of people who voted for this plan because of the auditorium, without question,” St. Onge said. “I know several people who voted for it because of the gym, and I even know several people who voted for it for the cafeteria.”

Winslow Town Manager Mike Heavener

Heavener said he is uncertain about what the future entails, as far as the school renovations are concerned.

“Obviously, we’ve got to do something,” Heavener said. “The next steps would be figuring out what those (next steps) are.”

Heavener said that bringing school board members into executive session with councilors is consistent with town policies, including when “you potentially have a legal matter.”

“They’re a department of the town, and if there were to be any litigation, both parties would be involved,” Heavener said, referring to the council and the school board. “There’s nothing in the town charter that says the school board can’t get legal advice from the town attorney. It’d be no different than if there was a lawsuit against the Police Department. Obviously, they’d go into executive session with the police chief to discuss the legal matter.”

He noted that there will be other chances for people to voice opinions on the topic.

St. Onge said he hoped Thursday’s executive session would be productive.

“I hope that this meeting will hold Steve Blatt accountable and also be the first step in moving forward in either expanding the middle school into K-8 or renovating the junior high school,” he said.

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins

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