Auburn's 'mega-campus' idea gets green light

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Consultant Mike McCormick presents to the School Committee on Wednesday night the Master Facilities Committee recommendation to create a huge, single-site campus that would eventually hold all Auburn schools.

AUBURN — The Auburn School Committee voted Wednesday to accept and move forward with a plan to put all of the city's schools on one big campus.

The committee voted 6-1 to accept a recommendation from the Master Facilities Planning Committee to look for a site with enough land to build all schools — from prekindergarten to high school — at one location. City Councilor David Young, the mayor's representative on the School Committee, voted against the plan.

The first phase of the single-campus plan, which would take seven years if approved by voters, would be to build a new Edward Little High School on that site with local taxpayer money. Attempts to get state construction money have not been successful.

A straw vote on that would likely be held in November 2012, Superintendent Katy Grondin said.

Next: A committee will be assembled to oversee phase one of the single campus/new high school plan.

One citizen blasted the idea.

Former School Committee member Elliott Epstein called the single-campus plan “the most ridiculous thing to come down the pike,” “silly,” and a waste of time. He predicted it would be “whacked” by voters when it got to referendum.

Everyone agrees Edward Little High School needs a lot of work, Epstein said. Estimates have shown a major renovation would cost $49 million; a new school, $61 million.

“That's a lot of money,” Epstein said. “If you're talking about a single-campus plan, you're automatically committing yourself to a very large expenditure for the high school right now.”

He asked whether the plan was a concrete one, or something to be discarded if a future committee concludes it makes no sense.

Committee member Tom Kendall said the plan “is where we believe our education should go,” that it's “our best thinking on the direction we should be heading.”

Epstein said he would volunteer to be on the phase one committee. “Otherwise, I'll hear about the plan at the end of the day, and I'm going to have that gag reflex I have when a particularly silly plan is put forth.”

School Committee member Lane Feldman pointed out that the committee changed its vote from supporting the recommendation to only accepting it.

“I don't like it,” Feldman said. “I don't want my child going to a mega-campus.”

But he respects the planning work and said the city has to move forward. “We all know we need a high school," he said. "If that's as far as we get, I'm happy.”

Retired educator Alfreda Fournier said a new high school “is paramount,” and putting the high school and middle school together “is a wonderful idea.”

Fournier volunteered to serve on the phase one committee representing retired citizens. It's important, she said, that the committee represent neighborhood schools that could be closed under the mega-campus proposal.

In presenting the Master Facilities Planning Committee recommendation, hired consultant Mike McCormick said Auburn's enrollment of 3,600 would grow by a half-percent per year for the next 20 years. By 2031, Auburn students will number more than 4,000, he said.

Looking at the physical needs of Auburn schools, he said the city is millions of dollars behind what it should have spent in maintenance and upkeep. The high school's heating system is poor, it has mold problems and poor air quality. The school lacks science labs and a standard cafeteria, and it needs more room for programs. Due to its physical condition, Edward Little is on academic probation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

McCormick said the city is spending beneath the state average for education and has deferred $56 million worth of needed school building improvements.

The current debt-service ratio for Auburn, including school debt, is 3.56 percent, he said. “There is fiscal capacity,” McCormick said. “Auburn could locally fund the recommendations of this committee.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Mike McCormick's picture

Please use facts

As I review the comments, I think it is fantastic that some are getting involved and expressing their opinions. As the Auburn School Department and indeed the community moves forward to provide education for its citizens, it is imperative that facts be used not innuendo or street conversations. Big decisions like this require a good grasp of real data. Armed with real data, the picture sometimes becomes more clear.

As such, I am not sure where Mr. LaChance gets his census data but I would like his reference(s). It is always important to list sources. In our analysis of resident population, we used US Census, Maine State Planning Office, and City of Auburn resident information. If one digs into SPO and City resident data, one will discover that they too use US Census data.

When we stated that Auburn resident population is stable, we are still statically accurate. The following is from SPO:

“In the three decades between 1860 and 1900, Auburn’s population nearly tripled, from 4,022 to 12,951 residents. From 1900 to 1960 it doubled again, peaking at 24,449 residents. Since 1960, the population has decreased slightly overall and stabilized. In 2000, Auburn had about 23,000 residents.”

Excerpt from Table P-1 of the comprehensive plan:

1960 24,449
1970 24,151
1980 23,128
1990 24,039
2000 23,203
2010 23,055

As stated, there have been some minor swings. The average over the last 50 years is 23,671, the mean is 23,621, and the average deviation is 465. The 50 year average change is .11% (point one one percent)

In any analysis, these numbers represent “steadiness”.

The child population decline mentioned is not accurate. There are more students enrolled today than anytime since 2005, 214 more. There are 78 more this year than last year. (From the school department and the Maine Department of Education). Regarding births, Auburn has averaged 279 annually since 1990 and in the last six years that has increased by 6 to 285. (From Auburn City Hall and Maine Department of Human Services, Office of Vital Statistics). 280 annual births equals 3,920 students enrolled in school. Currently, Auburn only offers pre-Kindergarten to 150 of the potential 285 that could attend and not all residents attend Auburn Schools as they may be home schooled or attend private school which is why of the 3,920 potential, todays enrollment is 3,668.

The numbers Mr. LaChance shows in his editorials do not appear in any data source we have seen. If he would be so kind to direct us to the source of data he used, we would appreciate reviewing it.

Perhaps the readers should review the Auburn Comprehensive plan that was most recently adopted April 9, 2011. The following are excerpts from it:

Page 7: High School vision
“Edward Little High School (ELHS) has a new, updated campus with additional sports fields/facilities; arts opportunities/forums; and an improved cafeteria; with better, healthier and more affordable food options. The curriculum has been improved and expanded, and includes job-shadowing opportunities and more technology courses.”

Page 50: Objective F.1.1
Strategy F.1.1a
“Improve the quality of the City’s school system so that Auburn is an attractive place for families with children to live.”

The Auburn planners are correct in understanding that good school systems are critical to the continued existence of community and its economic and cultural diversity. Good school system ARE and economic development tool in of itself.

Regarding community schools and single campuses. Neighborhood schools were created 120 years ago when there was no other means of getting to school except for walking (no buses). Today, very few students actually walk. They are bussed or transported by parents or siblings. As a fact gathering opportunity, go to any of the elementary schools and count how many walkers there are. Not many. Riding buses is much safer for young students than walking.

There are many instances of single campuses in Maine. Falmouth, Yarmouth, Hampden, Mt. View, Old Town, Dexter, and others have single campuses or very large student counts in a single building. The kids love it! And the parents do to once they move in.

Please continue the much needed discussion, it is great for the process. But please, use only the facts, and reference the source of those facts.

Mike Lachance's picture

"By 2031, Auburn students

"By 2031, Auburn students will number more than 4,000, he said."
yeah... RIIIIGHT.

Look up the growth rate of Auburn over the last 60 years. Its the fantasy of spenders that L-A will have a growth boom when people are leaving as fast as they are being replaced (the ones leaving are affluent young folks; the ones replacing them are welface seeking freeloaders of all colors and variety). Our growth is stagnant.

These people are hell bent on pie-in-the-sky ideas that end up doing nothing but forcing higher mil rates. For what?

Bad idea by wreckless administrators and beaurocrats.

Tizz Crowley's picture

Good thing for you, Mr. LaChance, you're not an Auburn resident

I'm glad you have the opportunity to comment and support Mr. Morin; but as a Lewiston resident you won't have to worry about our decision making process. I would encourage you to be active in Lewiston's future plans. The local paper has been filled with similar comments to yours regarding Lewiston's experiences. As an Auburn resident, I only observe and not comment on what the City of Lewiston does.

I would suggest you double check your population data. I have reviewed at least the last 20 years in detail, and the general population numbers since 1919. The conclusion of a 1/2% is reliable.

Mike Lachance's picture

AUBURN MAINE POP GROWTH AND

AUBURN MAINE POP GROWTH AND STATS
2010 Pop. = 22,433
Chg since 2000 = -3.32% (US = +9.61%)
Chg since 1990 = -9.34% (US = +24.02%

Forecast pop chg by 2014 = -4.05% (US = +4.52%)

What was that about Auburn growth?

Tizz Crowley's picture

Your population growth status overall, not school age children

I believe your information above is correct, just not complete. School needs are based on anticipated births and child populations. If you have higher number of deaths or adults relocating out of the area, the overall population number will decrease, yet the school age group can increase.

Mike Lachance's picture

AUBURN MAINE AGE DATA Under

AUBURN MAINE AGE DATA
Under 18 (2000) = 23.2%
Median Age (2000) = 38

Under 18 (2010) = 22.1%
Median Age (2010) = 37.5

Child population is decreasing.
Age is increasing.

Mike Lachance's picture

(typo = median age is

(typo = median age is stagnant)

Mike Lachance's picture

While I am not a Lewiston

While I am not a Lewiston resident, I am the parent of an ELHS student, and regardless, i will comment regardless. I have liven in Auburn on and off for the last 40 years. I have seen the changes and the ever expanding school budget for a population that is NOT expanding. (1% is hardly growth)

We are all free to comment on anything we wish. Both towns have good ideas and DUMB ideas. I'd expect honest commentary from ALL L-A residents!

;-)

Tizz Crowley's picture

The term mega campus is incorrect and wrong visual

I was happy to see the School Committee vote to move to phase one for a Single Campus concept and New Edward Little High School. This was a 20 year PLANNING decision.

I'm disappointed to hear the project called a "Mega Campus". The Ward 1 School Committee member, who said he didn't want his child to go to a Mega campus, obviously hadn't read his material. His child will likely graduate before the new EL is completed.

Let me ask Auburn residents, what would you imagine a community facilities area to look like? I have a picture in mind similar to where I worked for almost 20 years. Imagine if you would, a lovely condominium area with a group of homes all located in a wooded area with lots of amenities- parks, recreational equipment, library and performing arts centers are within walking distance. Even if you don't live at this place, it is located on a bus line and open to all in the community.

This is what a comprehensive campus might look like in 20 years, but you have to take the first step- buy the land and build a new high school. All the buildings, yes there would likely be several schools- one for the very young (4-6 year olds), a primary grade school (7- 11 year olds), a middle age group (12- 14), and the new Edward Little High School (ages 15-18), would be in the same "neighborhood". This neighborhood is a beautiful, open green area with trees, lawns, and the quietness of nature. Think a large Bates College type property.

I can't answer a question that shouts out... why wouldn't a parent want their child to attend a school that might be located near another school in a lovely neighborhood? For little kids, does this parent prefer to have the child on a very busy street like Minot Avenue (Fairview) or Park Avenue (Park Ave) or near businesses and hotels (Washburn)?

Mega-Campus is the wrong word. A Center for Education Excellence, located in Life-Long Learning Park, is my neighborhood of schools. I'm excited to see this develop over the next 20 years.

Tizz E. H. Crowley

 's picture

Really pretty

What you describe sounds really pretty. That doesn't make it practical or realistic though. I've lived in Auburn nearly my whole life, and I'm pretty confident that no spot big enough for something like this still exists to be developed, unless it's somewhere so far away from the rest of down as to be completely impractical.

It's not polite to dismiss someone's concerns because their child won't be in school when the plan is complete. That wasn't the point he was trying to make. His point (and one I agree with) is that a mega campus where every kid goes to school for their entire school career and is effectively bubbled off from the rest of town doesn't sound like a very palatable experience for any child.

What you call it doesn't matter. Make up whatever term you like. That won't change the fact that to a lot of people it doesn't smell sweet. What you describe is pretty, but I have little or no faith that our city can maintain the needed focus and find the needed funds to get something like that built in 50 years, much less 20. Not to mention that if they're underspending on maintenance and upkeep now, how do we trust them with brand new buildings that every school kid has to use because there's no alternative.

Joe Morin's picture

well...

I don't have children but hope to start a family within the next several years. If blessed with the oppurtunity it will not be in Auburn if this proposal were to move forward...

Tizz Crowley's picture

Help us understand your position- Mr. Joe Morin

I'm interested in why Mr. Morin and others feel so strongly about a new Edward Little High School and the purchase of a large tract of land. Mr. Morin states his position, but doesn't explain why.

The current Edward Little cannot be fixed to standards required for full accreditation. Even if we put $49 MILLION into the current building- we are left with an old and inefficient building. The other problem is there is not sufficient land at EL to build the needed space.

The other part of last night's plan is to buy enough land that school(s) COULD expand over the next two decades. Auburn has been short sighted before... which is why almost 45 years ago Auburn didn't secure enough land around EL and didn't build all the needs. We've lived with the piece meal approach and it's cost dearly.

Sorry, you're incorrect. Auburn School Committee made no DECISION about any middle school, except to say a decision to study, evaluate, and POSSIBLY add an addition, will likely be made in 10-12 years from now. Again, you're incorrect if you think any elementary school changes are happening. At this time, the only DECISION regarding neighborhood elementary schools is we expect to study, evaluate and PROBABLY build a new school in 17-20 years. Children who will attend this "MAYBE" new elementary school have not even been born yet. Their parents, however, may be students today in Auburn's elementary schools.

So help Auburn citizens understand why we shouldn't build a new EL and why we shouldn't buy a significant amount of land (which could be sold if not needed)?

Tizz E. H. Crowley

Joe Morin's picture

Let me clarify Tizz

I'm all for a new high school, ELHS was old when I graduated in '98. So, let me clarify. If plans were ever implemented for a single campus for all grades I would deeply disapprove. I can see in "theory" why it is appealing but the actual experience for the students, I feel, maybe less than desirable. I would simply move to Poland and recieve some true value for my taxes... Which I may do anyways. Listen to me clearly Tizz where I live is my choice and why is my perrogative. I've been paying ever increasing property taxes for years on a property that the city is over valuing. Approximately 1/3 of that money goes to the Education department. With a new high school that will surely increase by leaps & bounds. My neihborhood is going to crap... I can move to Poland and pay 1/2 the taxes, already have a decent school and appreciate a higher quality of life, the downside is having to take my trash to the dump???? Deal

Mike Lachance's picture

Joe knows it. And add to all

Joe knows it.
And add to all that a soon to be non-accredited high school.. but hey guess what.. every child gets to take home a FREEKING LAPTOP!!!

Insanity. AMS is fine. The elementary schools are fine, (they are COMMUNITY schools)...

Build a new ELHS. Thats it. Mega Campus is wreckless and says nothing for what these administrators think about neighborhoods, communities and what makes small town America great. But they are great at spending (wasting) taxpayer dollars as fast as possible, with the least return imaginable.

Tizz Crowley's picture

Thank you for your response

Thank you Mr. Morin for such a speedy response. We seem to agree on several points.

I am also an ELHS graduate and very concerned about the high probability that it will become an non-accredited high school because of facilities. Why would anyone want to live in a city without an excellent high school? How long will they give us to fix the problem, we've already been 2+ years in final probation status?

I am listening... carefully, very carefully, which is why I'm interested in your opinion. Yes, you're right. Where we live is a personal choice and one of the most significant we make as adults. Our choice impacts our children and the future of the community.

Many Auburn residents are concerned about property taxes. Those without children in school (over half of Auburn voters) often forget who paid for their education. I can't speak about over valuation except to say my house has dropped over 22% in value in 6 years and I haven't seen a reduction in my taxes. Of course, the same is true for much of my neighborhood and Auburn. So they could lower our value and increase the mill rate- they likely need to collect the same amount of money.

Financing for a new high school hasn't been studied or determined. I'd agree we likely could see a tax increase, but you are being premature to say it "will surely increase by leaps and bounds". I hope you'll volunteer to work on the committee to determine costs and funding sources.

Where is your neighborhood? How is it going to crap? What could the City do to help the deterioration and make improvements? What would this cost the City and where would you suggest the City get the funds? Are there unnecessary City expenses that could be eliminated? Are changes to your neighborhood the highest priority for you on where we should spend tax dollars?

Poland is a great place and Yes, they do have a wonderful high school. Can you imagine how nice it was for Poland students to leave EL and go to this wonderful new facility? If you lived in Poland and could choose to send your child to EL or Poland, where would you select?

I'm not clear if you or Poland "appreciate a higher quality of life", but I agree the quality of life is my highest priority in where I choose to live. Schools were the number one issue for me when my son was growing up. I selected the community in my work area that had the best schools. I then look at community resources for like arts, entertainment, and recreation. When returning to central Maine, I wanted to have everything close at hand. I was tired of a 25 minute commute to the grocery store, movies, concerts, shopping and such. Now everything is within 2 miles, so when I grow old and can't drive- there will be a bus, cheap taxi rides and walking if I'm able.

You raised the question for which I keep trying to find an answer... what do I get for my taxes? Police and Fire services come quickly to mind. Library, supermarkets, and medical services are next; but these aren't City services. Water and sewer aren't City services either. The annual budget process starts in a few months. I hope everyone will have an answer to the question- what do I get for my taxes? Your comments, suggestions and input will be required. That's how we can define the "deal".

I encourage all Auburn residents to get involved with the School Facility plans and with the City budget process. You can make a difference. Your opinion counts and most important, positive, concrete and specific suggestions are needed.

Let's keep talking Mr. Morin. I think we agree on much more.

Tizz

Joe Morin's picture

straight talk

"Those without children in school (over half of Auburn voters) often forget who paid for their education"
My Parents, grandparents and great grandparents.

"Financing for a new high school hasn't been studied or determined. I'd agree we likely could see a tax increase, but you are being premature to say it "will surely increase by leaps and bounds". I hope you'll volunteer to work on the committee to determine costs and funding sources."
Really Tizz? The states not helping. So...we do what? issue a bond? Auburns taxes are high. Look at comparable cities in the state. This school WILL raise taxes of all property owners in Auburn.
What neihborhood do I live? I live in an owner occupied 3 unit apartment building on Spring st.. I've been broken into numerous times and I've had property vandalized. I've had guests vehicles damaged while they visit! Do you have any idea how embarrassing that is??? Or how frustrating??? The Cops told me that they would patrol the area but they were sorry because the neihborhood behind me had turned into all subsidized housing...the officer said he couldn't say more but that I got the hint. There are more people living behind me trashing the neighborhood that aren't even from Maine!!! They sell drugs live off the state are hurt our little city. P.S. Not a one pays property taxes. These are also the peole that are more and more filling up the schools. I'm so tired of P.C. so I'm being straight. Lewiston/Auburn is the second largest metro are in Maine. Maine has a sweet wellfare system that is set up for people to move here and immediately collect. Rural towns down have the layout for public housing so... There you go.
Don't worry Tizz you'll get the revenues from my building for years beacsue it will become an investment but you won't get taxes on a second because higher standard of living for me means not having scrubs throwing trash in my yard, that I clean up, every single day. Not having lazy a-holes cutting across my lawn, making a deer trail after I've asked them repeatedly to not. I'm talking adults in their 30's & 40's not kids. Not needing a strong police presence because I don't get broken into 3 times in one year! This is what I pay $3,200 a year for? It's a crap deal. I know the city needs a new H.S. but it will raise my taxes even more. Tizz I don't live on Dillingham Hill or Pownal Rd. or outer Lake st... I will be buying a single family home next summer and believe you me. No way will it be within the Lewiston or Auburn city limits. P.S. How many more dead bodies can pop up in Lewiston this year? Scary

Tizz Crowley's picture

I'm sincere, I want to keep talking Mr. Morin-

Thank you for the long note. I would like to keep talking, especially since you've outlined some of my concerns as well... police strength. In my opinion, and for many in my neighborhoods, we do not have sufficient volume managing traffic and neighborhood concerns. Lack of resources is the response.

Today, I just wanted you to know I do know your neighborhood well. I grew up and lived in three different houses on Pleasant and Drummond Streets. I know your area better than my little street off Center St.

I'll be back in touch with you Mr. Morin. Thanks
Tizz

Mike Lachance's picture

Joe. Amen brother. Youve

Joe. Amen brother.
Youve nailed so many points here.

Too bad you didnt live in Lewiston, we've got this same debate with the mayoral race.... but the issues have now been put aside for the human-interest story. (Which will undoubtedly be in the papers up until Dec 14.)

Auburn has different problems than Lewiston on many level, but on THIS level it is the same on both sides of the river.

cool discussion

pretty cool that people are talking here. glad to see some passion for once

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