Too early to talk about GHS project cost, Perry says

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GORHAM — Voters will be left guessing in the coming new year about any official cost estimate for a proposed renovation-expansion to upgrade the town’s antiquated high school.

The project won’t be on a ballot until 2019.

An official final cost figure could likely come in February or March in 2019 followed by a vote in a June 2019 referendum, according to a School Department timeline.

Chatter circulating around town pegs the cost at about $60 million to remedy aging and overcrowding at the school. But Superintendent Heather Perry last week in an email to the American Journal dismissed any cost figures heard now as just rumors.

“We have not created cost estimates yet as we are still in the needs assessment phase of our work,” Perry said.

The high school opened in the fall of 1959 and was renovated and expanded at a cost of $11.6 million in 1994 to handle up to 750 students. Several years ago, enrollment climbed to about 900 and numbered about 850 students when school opened for classes this past September.

The School Committee this past fall hired Harriman Architects & Engineers as a consultant to design a project to expand and renovate the high school. School officials have previously announced the goal is to keep the high school on its present campus.

The School Department also has a Building Committee and an Athletic Committee to study a project.

The high school is cramped in a landlocked, 23-acre parcel in the same municipal complex as the town offices and Baxter Memorial Library. School officials previously have cited as problems a shortage of classrooms, insufficient cafeteria space, over-utilized athletic fields and a parking shortage.

In addition, for security purposes, the main office should be relocated from the Morrill Avenue front entrance to the opposite end of the building where students enter from the bus dropoff and the student parking area, officials say.

Harriman will start creating various scenarios following the needs assessment phase with agreed-upon overall goals, Perry said.

“These scenarios will have costs associated with them and the committee will then get a chance to review all possibilities in depth before finalizing a draft design that meets our needs,” Perry wrote. “Then and only then will we have a cost estimate that has any merit at all.”

According to a charted timeline for a project, design options would be developed in March, April and May in 2018. Then, options would be refined in the summer.

A final concept design would be worked out beginning in October 2018 and culminate in February 2019.

Before a high school project goes to referendum, the matter would be heard for approval by both the School Committee and Town Council. If okayed at the polls,the town would borrow the money. Local property taxpayers would bear the entire project cost as the state, which shared in the renovation two decades ago, would not participate in funding the latest proposal.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com