AUBURN — School Superintendent Katy Grondin knows people are anxious about the costs of building a new high school.
“We know this is a stretch for the community. We hear you,” Grondin said Tuesday at a meeting with taxpayers at Rolly's Diner.
The numbers being thrown around — $50 million for a major renovation, $62 million for a new school funded by local taxpayers — are far from firm, Grondin said. The School Department is in the beginning stages.
“It's a start. The big toe is in the pool,” Grondin said.
It would probably be three to five years before a new school is built, she said in response to a question.
Explaining why a new school is needed, Grondin went through a list of deficiencies at Edward Little, including unhealthy air from moisture and mold, not enough space for programming, not enough parking spaces or athletic fields, an inadequate cafeteria, a building with poor if any insulation.
But her words did little to alleviate fears as some put the superintendent on the hot seat.
Several people criticized the School Department for talking about building a new school without starting with a budget, or knowing how much it would cost.
Priscilla Miller said she may want to build a $750,000 house, but that's a price she could not afford.
“You get your financing down first, then you go from there,” Miller said. A committee spending time planning a new school without a budget is why people are worried they'll be steamrolled.
“You're going to shove this down their throat just like you did with the iPads,” Miller said. “The iPads were, boom, they're here!” Miller said as she slammed the table with her hand. “Taxpayers don't get any chance to say anything.”
Statewide, five schools are ahead of Edward Little High School on the state funding list, Miller said. “They're managing to educate kids.”
Miller complained that the building hasn't been cared for, that she wouldn't use a bathroom because “they're so filthy.”
Dee Chapman said she too was bothered by the lack of maintenance. Too many janitors have been laid off. That's why buildings “are in disarray,” Chapman said.
Grondin acknowledged the School Department is behind in maintenance, saying that $2.2 million should be spent each year, but many years, half that amount is spent, and some years, none.
“We only have five maintenance workers for nine buildings. It's a struggle,” Grondin said. Catching up will take an enormous amount of money, she said.
Several in the audience offered suggestions on how to get a new or improved school.
One man suggested the School Department do what the Auburn Public Library did to get a major addition and renovation. The city gave the library some money and the library privately raised the rest.
A lot of people would donate, he said.
Miller suggested “getting the parents cranked up and write to the governor and tell him we need some help.”
One woman suggested leaving donation jars for a better high school on the counters of local businesses.
Edward Little High School senior Amanda Williams said improvement should happen but slowly, starting with the bathrooms and old carpeting. New athletic fields aren't necessary, she said. “We have plenty of them.”
Property taxpayers shouldn't pay for all of the work, Williams said. The community and students could help with fundraising and community service. Instead of sitting in detention, perhaps students could do things like sweeping.
Alfreda Fournier, a member of the New High School Steering Committee, said a better high school could be built in stages. Some parts should be new, other parts renovated, but the public needs full accountability.
“There's no question people want something decent at the high school,” she said.
The committee meets Thursday nights at Auburn Hall, Grondin said, inviting more public participation.