Gleason seeks ‘Plan B’ to replace Edward Little

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AUBURN — Conditions at Edward Little High School are too serious for the city not to have a contingency plan if the state won’t pay to replace it, officials said Monday.

Mayor Dick Gleason said he plans to begin forming a task force to consider asking voters to support building a new high school without state help.

“‘Plan B’ should be written on the front of this in big, bold letters,” Gleason said. “That’s what this should be.”

Councilors and school department officials had dinner in the school’s cafeteria and toured the building during a workshop meeting Monday night.

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The school, built in 1961, is in danger of losing its accreditation. It has been on the New England Association of Schools and Colleges warning list since 2005 and was placed on probation by the group in April 2009. Problems include a lack of space and no plan to pay for repairs.

Principal Jim Miller, leading the tour, said that the building was designed in 1961 when the school didn’t have an art program or an English as a Second Language program. The school has made the building work and now has six different rooms dedicated to art.

“We basically built walls in some rooms, making two or three smaller ones out of one big one,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve built a lot of walls.”

The School Committee voted unanimously in October to accept a building committee’s recommendation to build a new high school on the site, agreeing to apply to the state for $60 million to pay for the work. If the city decided to build the school without state aid, borrowing the money to do the work, it would increase the property tax rate $3 per $1,000 of value, according to city staff.

The new high school would be more than 200,000 square feet; the current one is 168,000 square feet. As proposed, the new school would be built near the tennis courts, and would be state of the art.

Superintendent Tom Morrill said it could take several years before work begins, if the state agrees to fund the work. The state is taking school construction applications through June 2010. Those applications would be reviewed until February 2011, scored and compiled into a priority list that would go to the State Board of Education in July 2011.

Building design work could begin sometime in 2013.

But state budget cuts could mean Auburn won’t make the list.

“So we could be sitting here 10 years from now, having the same discussion, if we don’t get state aid,” Councilor Eric Samson said. He urged councilors and school officials to be more aggressive.

Gleason said that’s why he wants a Plan B task force, and councilors and school officials Monday agreed.

“It’s an idea that I have been talking about for some time,” Gleason said. “If the state list comes out and we’re not on it, we need to move quickly towards are next step.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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