GHS project estimate: $96.8 million

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A draft estimate pegs the cost of renovating and expanding Gorham High School at  $96.8 million. The addition of synthetic athletic fields and a track is not included in that estimate.

Gorham High School Building Committee members and town councilors Tuesday hear the cost details of a proposed project to modernize and enlarge the aging facility.

GORHAM — The preliminary estimate released Tuesday to renovate and expand Gorham High School is $96.8 million.

“We were shell-shocked,” said Town Council Vice Chairwoman Suzanne Phillips, who also is a member of the High School Building Committee.

The $96.8 million estimate does not include the cost of proposed synthetic athletic fields and an outdoor track, which could cost about another $10 million, the superintendent said.

Because the state will not be contributing any funds to the high school project, the cost would be shouldered entirely by Gorham taxpayers. Based on a $96.8 million pricetag, taxes on a Gorham home assessed at $250,000 would increase about $1,200 in the first year of a 20-year bond, according to School Department Business Manager Hollis Cobb.

Taxpayers and town officials “clearly cannot accept” a $96.8 million project, Superintendent Heather Perry said after Tuesday night’s meeting of the Building Committee, when the estimate was unveiled.

Jim Means, spokesman for Concerned Taxpayers of Gorham, could not be reached Wednesday for comment by the American Journal deadline.

The figure quickly riled residents and Phillips said early Wednesday she’d already received hostile calls. “People are seriously angry,” she said.

Officials will now do their homework to determine the ultimate scope of a project in an effort to balance what is needed for education with a price tag voters would support.

Perry said school officials and the Building Committee need to sit down as a group and “sharpen our pencils.”

“We should work on this number and get it down as far as we can,” she said.

Daniel Cecil of Harriman Architects and Engineers presented the estimate Tuesday at the meeting, which was attended by school officials and five town councilors. His concept plan was developed after months of meetings with school administrators, teachers and staff.

“These numbers are a draft,” Cecil said.

The School Committee and Town Council will meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, to discuss the project that could go to Gorham voters in a November referendum. “If we can’t go forward, we’re in a hard place,” Perry said.

Phillips said following the meeting she would not support the project “as it now stands.” Phillips wants feedback from the community before offering an opinion on a cost voters would likely back.

A community forum is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26.

The project is aimed at upgrading the high school to accommodate 1,100 students. The enrollment now is 868 and is expected to rise to 975 students in the next decade.

The overcrowded high school opened in 1959 and was renovated in 1994 to handle 750 students.

Proposed plans include adding a two-story, 132,680-square-foot classroom wing to the existing building’s 148,770 square feet. The number of classrooms would increase from 33 to 41 and would eliminate six classrooms now housed in portables.

The cafeteria and library would be expanded and a second gym would be added among several athletic improvements. The$96.6 million estimate does not cover athletic fields and a track. Perry said Wednesday that component could cost “in the vincity of $10 million.”

The athletic fields are part of a capital raising campaign and figures were to be available at the School Committee meeting Wednesday after the American Journal deadline. “The Athletic Capital Campaign Committee will meet on Thursday night to review and plan how they too can sharpen their pencils on these costs,” Perry said.

In a security upgrade, the school’s main office under the proposal would be relocated from the Morrill Avenue entrance to the building’s opposite end at the bus dropoff.

Parking on the 23-acre school campus would be increased from 280 spaces to 442.

Part of Access Road, which separates the school from Robie Park, would be eliminated, shifting traffic on to Ball Park Road. Cecil said $250,000 would be allocated to rebuild that road to handle additional traffic. An earlier plan for parking along Ball Park Road has been scrapped following public input last month.

Proposed construction would cost $48.8 million and renovation work, $28.7 million. Administrative and various other costs would tally $12.5 million while fees and services would run nearly $7 million.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 780-9089 or email rlowell@keepmecurrent.com.