Oxford mulls cost of sewer expansion to schools

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OXFORD — Town officials will weigh the costs of doing business before determining whether it should expand its ongoing, $24 million municipal sewer project to a nearby school, a post office and town offices. 

A price tag on branching sewer lines through Pleasant Street has not been calculated, but it is likely to be a substantial amount in addition to the $23.7 million the project is already expected to cost, according to Town Manager Michael Chammings.

This past summer, school officials casually approached the town about the possibility of replacing an aging septic tank at Oxford Elementary School with town sewage services.

The sewer project calls for lines to run from Route 26 onto King Street up to the Robinson’s Mill and Pismo Beach area. Pleasant Street and Oxford Elementary School are several hundred yards distant. 

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The town’s capacity to pay back additional debt will likely factor into such a decision, Chammings suggested. It is already due to borrow some $8 million in bank loans, and another $13.7 million from the federal government. While most bids have returned within projections, estimates on the sewer facility have returned higher than anticipated.

Though the town has based loan repayment upon fees for current users — some 900 residents and businesses already within the sewer lines’ scope — as well as revenue captured in its Tax Increment Financing zone — Chammings was hesitant about expanding the project too quickly. 

“We’re installing more of a system in two years than most towns do in 20 years,” he said.  

The school, which houses over 400 students and staff, has an aging septic system which will likely need to be replaced in the near future, according to School Administrative District 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts. He suggested hooking onto the system will save the district money over time. 

The town is in the first stage of a two-phase project to install sewer pipes along Route 26, through its TIF zone, onto King Street and into residential neighborhoods. Those pipes would pump wastewater to a pump station at the Welchville Dam, and the sterilized water would flow out into the Little Androscoggin River.

The sewer system is viewed as an important incentive to attract businesses to the economic activity generated by the Oxford Casino. The project is slated to be completed next fall. 

According to Chammings, a theoretical expansion would occur over a small bridge spanning a small outlet stream of Thompson Lake along the backside of the mill complex. 

“That would be a future decision set into motion if the school did fail. We’d look at with them whether its more feasible to update their leach field or more cost-effective to extend the sewer lines,” Chammings said.

“You don’t want to stop on a piece of paper, but where it makes the most sense,” he said. “Right now its safe to say it’s going down to the marina and we may expand off of that.” 

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