AUBURN — The Maine State Board of Education unanimously approved funding Wednesday for a new Edward Little High School.

An architect’s rendering of the proposed Edward Little High School. Auburn School Department image

The board authorized $105.9 million to build the school, according to Auburn School Superintendent Katy Grondin, who called the vote an exciting milestone for the city.

Grondin recalled Wednesday when Auburn applied for state funding for a new school more than 10 years ago.

“In 2004-05, we came out No. 44 on the state list,” which was too low to get state funding. “We waited. Then in 2010-11, we were ‘sweet 16’ on the list.”

In the fall of 2016, Auburn was told, “You finally are going to be funded.” It was the last project to be approved in that cycle of state construction funding.

It is very emotional, Grondin said, “to say we’re this much closer to getting the new high school we know is in dire need.”

The state’s approval, which had been expected, was needed for the project to move to referendum.

“It felt good to see all their hands in the air,” said Adam Hanson, business manager for the Auburn School Department. “This is a huge step we’ve been building up to.”

Auburn officials have worked closely with the state, Grondin said, and the state has been “very complimentary of our work to bring this design to them, and the work we’ve done with our community around this project.”

The expected cost of the the new school was reduced recently after the Maine Department of Education worked with architects reviewing different components of the project, Hanson said.

The total cost is now $122 million, down by about $3 million. The three-level school will include a “sizable” wing for career and technical education programs, and all athletic fields will be at the Harris Street site.

In addition to the $105.9 million the state will pay, Auburn taxpayers would borrow $14.5 million, plus $1 million in local capital improvement project money.

Th local funds would pay for an athletic complex with a turf field and six-lane running track, a 1,200-seat performing arts center, extra space for programming and parking and other amenities.

The state is also paying for much of a geothermal system, which would provide a “greener” way to heat and cool the building.

Another $585,000 is expected to be raised from donations to pay for a second turf field for athletics.

The new school’s impact locally would include a $94 increase in 2023 to the annual tax on property valued at $150,000, but Hanson said “that would be a high point.” After that, the loan’s cost to taxpayers would be reduced by about $2 a year.

The next step is a joint workshop April 24 with the City Council and School Committee, after which the School Committee is expected to vote on the wording of the ballot question.

On Tuesday night, the Building Committee recommended there be one ballot question combining city and state funding. This decision came after members of the committee were told that breaking out local costs on the ballot could change or compromise the project’s design.

Building Committee member Beth Favreau said she wanted to see two referendum questions after hearing from taxpayers who are concerned about the total package and rising taxes.

“If you’re going to tell me there’s no way from a concept design we can separate into two questions, I will accept that,” Favreau said. “But I don’t want to risk the whole project” if voters were to reject one question.

Committee Chairman Tom Kendall said the campaign to share with the public what the school would mean has not yet begun. Kendall said he is confident voters are ready to approve a state-of-the-art high school.

City Councilor Holly Lasagna and School Committee member Bonnie Hayes also agreed on one ballot question.

“Let’s roll the dice,” Hayes said.

Edward Little Principal Scott Annear said he recalled how the community in 2008 was considering spending $65 million in local money for a new school, and now the community could get a “mind-boggling deal” for $15 million.

The public referendum on the project is scheduled for June 11.

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