City Councilor Bob Hayes talks Wednesday night about a new Edward Little High School in Auburn as city councilors meet with the School Committee about the project. From left: Councilor Belinda Gerry, School Committee member Daniel Poisson and Hayes. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

AUBURN — If a new Edward Little High School were built to the standards some residents seek, it would mean bigger tax bills for property owners.

Specifically, the tax bill on property valued at $150,000 would increase an estimated $150 a year, according to information shared Wednesday night when the City Council and School Committee met to discuss the new school.

No one at the meeting spoke against building a new high school, and some said Auburn must replace tired, inefficient Edward Little for the good of the students and the community.

City Councilor Leroy Walker said he can afford to pay more in property taxes to build a better school than what the state will fund.

The state will only pay for a “basic” school, according to Harriman architect Mark Lee.

To have more — including a state-of-the-art athletic complex, a 1,200-seat performing arts center, air conditioning throughout, Google stairs, geothermal heating and extra classroom and parking space — the cost to taxpayers would be about $23.6 million.

“That is a lot of money,” Walker said. For those who cannot afford the extra taxes, “is someone willing to step up (and) help? Or would they need to move to a smaller town? How can we help out the ones who can’t afford this?”

Councilor Andrew Titus said a new high school will come with greater costs. He requested information on how a new high school would benefit Auburn, especially in terms of economic development, so taxpayers know what they would be getting for their money.

“I can afford the taxes,” Titus said, “but the people I talk to are worried.”

Councilor David Young said the city is at a crossroads and he is hopeful a new high school would encourage more taxpayers to stay and or move people to move to Auburn to “help shoulder the burden.”

Councilor Belinda Gerry said the city needs a new high school. The existing EL “has served its purpose,” she said.

One question people are asking, Gerry said, is, “Will the new school be better taken care of than the existing school?”

Despite the financial concerns, city and school officials said they have heard much support from taxpayers since the local costs were unveiled last month.

Patricia Gautier, who sits on the School Committee, said she was “quite surprised” to have heard from so many “who are behind us.”

“It’s good to hear,” Gautier said, adding that some residents have told her the new school should include a pool.

Building a new school “is an opportunity now to do something great for the city and our kids,” Gautier said. “I think we deserve it. We need to do it right.”

Bonnie Hayes, another member of the School Committee, agreed, saying that when the existing school was built 50 years ago, “we didn’t do it right.” Shortcuts were taken to save money, she said, resulting in what many consider an inferior building.

“I am a senior citizen on a fixed income,” Hayes said, adding that she would eagerly pay more for a first-class high school. “We need to bite the bullet.”

Yet another member of the School Committee, Bob Mennealy, said the new school is a “one-time opportunity” for the city, but it must be affordable.

Lee, the architect from Harriman, went over a proposed design and possible features of the building. One side of the 281,000-square-foot school would provide three floors of classrooms. The other side would include the performing arts center, gymnasium, physical education classrooms and career and technical classrooms.

Plans call for the building to be open to and used by the community, officials said.

Mayor Jason Levesque advised officials to look at options to reduce local costs to taxpayers. He thanked School Committee Chairman Tom Kendall for holding the joint workshop.

“This is a good process, so far,” Levesque said.

Kendall encouraged residents to provide feedback to the School Committee and City Council.

City and school officials said they hope to hear soon that the Maine Department of Education has approved the school design and has determined how much it will pay.

A straw poll on the school proposal is scheduled for March 12.

A referendum on the proposed school is expected by fall.

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