AUBURN — For years, the Auburn School Committee has talked about a new high school.
On Wednesday night, the new high school discussion had new meaning — this time, there’s guaranteed state funding backing the school, which means it will be built, even though it may take years for construction to begin.
“We are very excited about this opportunity to build a flagship high school for our community,” Superintendent Katy Grondin said as she briefed committee members on the long process required for state funding.
“It’s imperative we work with the community,” she said. “It’s going to take all of us to make those important decisions for what’s best for our students, our community.”
With state funding, there is a strict protocol to follow — and a long one.
Grondin passed out a color graphic, showing 21 required steps. Auburn is on step No. 4, she said.
Building the school will be an adventure, she said. “And it’s going to take some time.”
School Committee Chairman Tom Kendall said that several years ago, Auburn had a committee that worked on reviewing the needs, design and site selection of a new high school, but the group was disbanded to wait for state funding approval.
“All of that work, although not lost, will be repeated,” Kendall said. We can’t pick up where that was. We have to start at step No. 1. There is no shortcut.”
Along the way, there will be several points at which the project will need local and state approval. With help from citizens, “we can build a high school that this community can be very proud of and will prepare our students,” Kendall said.
The first task for the School Committee is to appoint a building committee, which will do much of the work, Kendall said.
The school board will vote on the makeup of the building committee, which will represent elected officials, educators, students and citizens. Once the makeup is approved, members will be appointed.
The building committee’s first task will be to hire an architect.
Business Manager Jude Cyr said $300,000 has been set aside to get the process started. The state does not cover startup costs.
Once an architect has been hired, the committee will explore whether it makes sense to renovate the existing high school or build a new building.
Determining how many high school students Auburn will have when the building opens — which Grondin said would be in five to seven years — will be critical to what kind of school the state will pay for.
Enrollment will dictate the number of acres on the site, the size of the building, the number of classrooms, and even how many seats are in the auditorium.
An outside company will be hired to do an enrollment projection, Cyr said.
Kendall pointed out that the enrollment projection for Park Avenue Elementary School was off. The study predicted 325 students, and the school opened with 320 students but now has 382.
Another big step will be site selection. Each site will be reviewed and judged.
“This is a long process because you really have to turn over every possibility,” Grondin said.
Before a site is chosen, it will have to be approved by Auburn residents in a public hearing and a straw poll. Following site approval will be building design, determining how much the school will cost and programs.
To get 100 percent state funding for the school, except for extras Auburn may elect to have, the city will have to maintain the state-required amount of local money in future school budgets, Grondin said.
Before any construction begins, the school would have to be approved by Auburn residents in referendum. If all goes well, the earliest the referendum could be held would be June 2018, Grondin said.
Once the referendum is approved, things will start moving faster, Grondin said.
“You have the green light to start your project,” she said.
City Councilor Jim Pross asked for a joint workshop between the City Council and the School Committee before the Oct. 19 meeting, when the makeup of the building committee is decided, saying it would demonstrate that officials are putting “their best foot forward to build this incredible institution.”
The committee agreed to hold a joint workshop on the matter at 5:30 or 6 p.m. Oct. 19, before the next School Committee’s 7 p.m. meeting.