The Real Choice We Face on the Middle School Bond Vote—
Thursday, April 20, 2017 12:20 PM
The June ballots of Camden and Rockport will include a proposed bond to finance construction of a new facility for Camden-Rockport Middle School (see www.crmsmiddlematters.info to learn more). Although the ballot will present a simple yes/no vote on the bond, the reality is that regardless of the vote outcome, we will be spending many millions of tax dollars on our middle school over the next 5 to 10 years to ensure our kids have a safe and healthy place to learn. The real choice in June is between two possible options of dealing with the failing facility of the middle school: do we vote “no” and force the school administration to begin the necessary march down a nearly $17 million dollar short-term fix of patching up the old building, or do we approve the $26 million to build a new school which will address myriad structural, functional, and safety issues presented by the old facility, and provide a building capable of operating efficiently for generations to come. These truly are the choices we have at this stage. Waiting any longer to begin addressing the serious issues with the building’s cracked foundation and splintering floor joists, the aging HVAC and heating systems, the sinking section of the upper Knowlton wing, the outdated fire prevention and security systems, and the many other engineering concerns would run the risk of the facility falling into an unsafe condition. That is a risk the school administration is rightfully unwilling to take.
Recent events at the middle school highlight the need for investment of one kind or another immediately following the June vote. On March 13, one of the boilers experienced a fuel leak, leaving the building with no heat, and filled with heating oil fumes. School was closed for the day. Because of the poor ventilation provided by the school’s aging HVAC system, elevated levels of harmful fumes persisted and the school was again closed on March 14. Although fuel leaks are not uncommon, that kind of problem should not leave a building uninhabitable for two days. The length of time it took for the fumes to dissipate highlights the reality of the middle school: its systems and infrastructure are barely up to the task of safely housing our children, and we cannot continue debating the issue for several years before addressing the problems.
To be clear, the nearly $17 million cost to patch up the existing facility would literally just cover basic patching of the building. Moreover, it is only projected to extend the life of the building an additional 20 years, meaning we’ll be right back looking at this issue again in short order.
A new building not only provides a safer and healthier facility for our kids, but also functions better as a modern middle school design:
• Dedicated bus and parent drop-off loops would reduce traffic on Knowlton and improve safety. Safety would be further improved by having a single, secured building entrance.
• An appropriately sized and efficiently constructed building is projected to reduce operating costs by $300,000/year.
• The proposed project provides sufficient space for the thriving chorus and band programs which are currently crammed into unsuitable spaces.
• Instead of being spread out in two separated wings of a campus that is larger than needed, faculty and students would all be concentrated in a single academic wing of the new building, allowing for a greater sense of community and more opportunities for collaborative learning.
Importantly, the proposed project achieves all of this without extravagance. The proposed building falls well under the cost of similar facilities recently built in Maine on a cost-per-square-foot basis, and is squarely in the middle of those comparables when calculated on a cost-per-student basis.
No one ever wants to spend many millions of dollars. But faced with the requirement that we spend that kind of money either to shore up the existing facility or to build a new one, wouldn’t we rather spend in a way that brings lasting value and benefit to our community? Do we really want to pour $16+ million into shoring up cracked walls and installing sprinklers in the basement bomb shelter of a facility whose design and layout doesn’t meet our middle school needs, only to have to return to this issue again in 20 years’ time? I encourage you to attend a public forum, a middle school facility tour, or simply take a deep dive into the above website to learn how much analysis and public input has gone into the decision to put this bond before the voters (events are listed on the above website). I am confident that if you dig in and study the issue and speak to those that know the current facility well, you too will be convinced that a yes vote on the school bond is the only option that makes sense.
Wyatt McConnell, Camden