EL solution still difficult as city, School Committee review site plans

AUBURN — School officials Monday said replacing the city's high school will continue to be a long process as they discussed two possible options.

"This is going to take the better part of a year to move forward," School Committee Chair Tom Kendall said. "There are a lot of questions to look at — athletic fields, the buildings and infrastructure and the impact it will have on areas of the city."

School Committee members and city councilors heard reports from two school building site engineers about possible replacements for the aging Edward Little High School at a joint workshop meeting Monday night.

One reuses the current site — either renovating the existing high school and adding on or constructing a replacement just to the south. Those options would cost the city between $50 and $62.3 million, according to Jeff Larimer of Harriman Associates.

A second $61 million option would build a new school behind Auburn Middle School, using city land and privately owned lots — including some on Vista Drive.

That didn't sit well with a handful of Vista Drive residents that attended the meeting.

"We didn't move into a cul-de-sac so we could have a high school in our back yard," said Kate Benson of 65 Vista Drive. "They are essentially killing our neighborhood."

But Kendall said Monday's report was simply research.

"Can we do it? That's what we wanted to know," Kendall said. "It's a continuation of our discussions last fall, when this site popped up in discussions. We just took it as far as it's feasible to see if it would work."

Edward Little High School is currently on academic probation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. That group surveyed the building in 2009 and found 41 major problems with the facility, including small classroom sizes, mold and air quality problems and failing boilers.

Auburn is considering what it would take to replace the high school on its own, without help from the state.

Engineer Bill Hoffman said the school would need about 80 acres to keep all of the athletic fields and parking on site. Although the land behind AMS, extending north to Hotel Road, included about 223 acres, all but 18.5 acres would be considered build-able, Hoffman said. The rest was wetland.

"That didn't meet the goal," he said. "The question, after seeing this, became are there adjacent properties that could be used to bring up that acreage."

Using an additional six parcels, including three at the northern end of Vista Drive's cul-de-sac, would give the school enough land to put the school. But neighbors and at least one property owner said the land is not for sale.

"It's a beautiful site for me to build a house," said Catherine Reardon, who purchased 96 Vista Drive in November. "I know it isn't final and formal, but how can I make plans to be here when potentially it's going to become the butt-end of the school?"

School Business Director Jude Cyr said Monday's report did show that the single school campus concept is not workable.

"What it has determined for us, this is not a mega-site," Cyr said. "You'd be lucky if you could fit the high school there, and that's it."

Kendall said the work would now be up to a study group that will be formed by the school committee and the City Council in the coming weeks. Kendall said he hopes the group will begin meeting in July.

"They get full rein," Kendall said. "This is not predetermined at all. They may say they like this plan. They may not. That's up to them."

No matter what they do, it will be expensive if Auburn decides to go it alone. Kendall said the school department isn't expecting any help from the state in replacing the high school.

"There is a cost to anything we do," he said. "We don't believe the state is going to help at all, and it looks like that process will be closed for the next five years. So we need to look at what we can do, locally."

Interim City Manager Don Gerrish calculated a new $40 million high school would cost the city $3 million per year if financed for 30 years. That works out to be a 7.25 percent tax rate increase — about $216 more for a $150,000 home.

A $70 million school bond would cost the city $5.3 million more in debt payments per year — an additional $381 for a $150,000 home, he estimated.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Talk about "not in my back yard"

Everyone should know that living in a community requires a certain amount of give and take. The reason we have hearings on these matters is obvious. The location is very important to the overall functionality of the High School. It needs the space to provide all the needs to a very important segment of our population.
This is not a "clam shack" we're talking about. To refer to an institution that will eventually provide education and guidance, to hopefully better prepare our students for a college education, as having the "But end of a school" in her back yard, is disturbing. I hope she speaks for her self and not the community as a whole.
The school has to go somewhere. It may even be in someone's back yard. I know this is hard for some people to grasp but, look at the new school as an important part of the whole city, not a whack to your property values.

Franky I believe it is a

Franky I believe it is a waste of time. Why won't someone just step forward and take the lead to pursue an ongoing responsible maintenance strategy for our existing buildings. Don't be fooled, even that will be expensive. But we know what the challenges are. Why not just seek to build the community support necessary to face those challenges, knowing it will take time to build that support, rather than waste our time and money with consultants every 4 years with this type of pie in the sky dreaming that only mobilizes the masses against the school department?

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