AUBURN — A majority of committee members studying a new or improved Edward Little High School indicated Wednesday night they favor building a new school.
New High School Steering Committee Chairman Tom Kendall asked members to put themselves into one of three groups: one favoring a major renovation; one favoring building at a new site; and one favoring building at the present site.
Of the 15 members at the meeting, two favored a major renovation, estimated to cost $42 million to $45 million cost, and 13 favored building new, estimated to cost $65 million.
There is no state construction money for the project, which means Auburn property taxpayers would be asked to pay all of the bill.
No vote was taken. Members are free to change their minds in the coming months as the committee discusses the future Edward Little, Kendall said.
Only Elliott Epstein and City Manager Clinton Deschene spoke in favor of renovating. Epstein said building new with local tax dollars is “irresponsible.” Deschene said a 30-year bond would not leave room for building needs at other schools in the coming years.
The high school is centrally located, allowing many students to walk or have a short ride. A renovation wouldn't mean bringing in utilities or permitting, it would mean having some athletic fields off site. “Big deal,” Epstein said.
A new school on a new site would mean big bucks just to buy the 50 acres, get permitting and utilities. It would cost $12 million to $18 million more than renovating. “You can't ignore those kinds of dollars. They're too big," Epstein said.
School librarian Patricia Gautier, City Councilor Mary LaFontaine and School Department business manager Jude Cyr spoke in favor of building a new school at the existing site.
“We have a nice site, it's centrally located,” Gautier said. There'd be no costs to buying land. Staying at the site will cost less, she said.
LaFontaine said building near the existing school would save time. “We don't have to shop for a location, go through the permitting process.”
Rick Vail, Bonnie Hayes and Superintendent Katy Grondin spoke in favor of building a new school at a new site.
Renovating would be disruptive to students and faculty, could take longer than building new, and the small site means “so many possibilities are missing,” Vail said. By state standards the site isn't large enough to build a new school.
With a new school, “you get to pick a site that meets what you desire. You can have all your athletic fields there,” he said. It's a long-term investment in the community, he said.
“Yes, you can spend less money upfront,” Vail said, but the costs need to be analyzed over the long-term. “If we build a school that lasts only 50 years, then shame on us for doing it on the cheap."
Grondin visited Biddeford High School which recently underwent a $34 million renovation using local tax dollars. Biddeford educators told her if they had to do it again they'd try to build new, she said. “You think you're saving, but in the long run are you really saving?'” she asked.
The steering committee will meet Feb. 7 to talk about what they need in a high school building, and Feb. 21 to talk about costs.
Several parents in the audience said something needs to be done, but they favored an option that would cost less.
Ron Rubocki said it's not important that all athletic fields be at the school, that good, adequate facilities are what's needed. If building at another site will cost $10 million to $15 million more, “then put it on the same site,” Rubocki said. “The fields should be secondary. I want my kids to go on and get a good job.”
Kate Benson said she'd like “the existing property to be seriously looked at” for either renovation or a new building. “Our taxes are high enough.”
Jason Levesque said his first choice would be a new facility at the existing site. Second would be renovating. "If you build it they will not come,” Levesque said. “If we build as Tom Kendall has said, a showcase high school that will not encourage people to move to Auburn. It will encourage more people to leave because of the increase in property taxes which will put a further strain on the existing people who can't leave.”
Bill Buzzell said he's leaning toward favoring a new building either on the existing site or a new site. “I taught through a renovation. It's very disruptive to students.”