AUBURN — Officials say they are more optimistic about completing the new Edward Little High School in time for classes this September after a meeting with Gov. Janet Mills and Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin last week.

Last month, Superintendent Cornelia Brown told school officials that the high school may not open as scheduled due to cost escalations.

The cost of materials has risen significantly since contracts were signed several years ago due to significant inflation. Some key subcontractors have refused to complete their work, saying they’ll go bankrupt without more money.

One of these subcontractors is responsible for the sprinkler system, which must be installed in order for the school to open. Others are responsible for installing lockers and drywall, and another for supplying kitchen equipment.

Submitted cost escalation requests total more than $4 million.

Additionally, the school district is facing a budget overrun of more than $3.5 million to remove and dispose of polychlorinated biphenyls, a hazardous material more commonly known as PCBs, from the old high school.


That brings the potential cost overrun for the project to at least $7.5 million, a sum Auburn officials say the city can’t afford to cover on its own.

Brown told the School Committee that the state has made a tentative agreement to absorb these costs. But the district will need to submit a proposal and receive approval from the State Board of Education in March in order to receive these funds.

“It has to go through the process, but the can is there,” said Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque. “The will has yet to be determined.”

As conversations about the construction timeline grew increasingly dire in January, Levesque called the governor’s office and set up the meeting. School officials have met with representatives from the Department of Education several times since August to discuss the problem, with no firm resolution.

“I’m very, very optimistic,” Levesque said. “I’m much more optimistic now than I obviously was when we called them for the meeting.”

Edward Little Principal Scott Annear said state officials were “very receptive to the suggestions that were put on the table and … appreciated that we came with some solutions.”


School officials will meet Friday to begin crafting their proposal to the state for increased funding. If approved, there will be no extra cost to Auburn residents.

Due to the City Charter, Auburn residents will need to vote to accept the additional funding in a June referendum.

With a plan in place, Levesque said they aim to negotiate with key subcontractors to resume work, even though the state board won’t approve the extra funding until at least March 18.

While officials hope to complete the construction of the high school on schedule, they acknowledge it may still be delayed. They’re working on creating plans for possible scenarios, but do not yet know what they will do if the school is unable to open at the start of the 2023-24 school year.

The entire project is budgeted at $122 million, which includes $104 million for construction. Of the $122 million, the state is paying about $106 million and local taxpayers are paying about $16 million, about 12% of the total project cost.

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