Camden Planning Board concerns about middle school project

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 1:15pm

To: Elaine Nutter, Superintendent of Schools, and Mathew Dailey MSAD 28 School Board Chairman

Dear Superintendent Nutter and Chairman Dailey:

Thank you for hosting the meeting Nov. 17 to familiarize the Rockport Select Board, Camden Select Board, Camden Planning Board and the Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee with the proposed new Middle School project. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the discussion about this significant undertaking.

The Camden Planning Board has four areas of concern with this proposed project:

1) Timing of the referendum vote,

2) Design process and alternatives,

3) Anticipated construction cost , and

4) Property tax increase.

You indicated that the referendum vote was scheduled for Feb. 10, 2015, only eight days after the Public Hearing.

Later, on Dec. 2, we learned that the School Board reaffirmed their decision to hold the vote in February despite the significant concerns raised by Camden and Rockport select boards.

We believe that this decision is precipitous and will not allow adequate time for citizens to familiarize themselves with the proposal.

In addition, harsh February weather conditions and a significant number of voters absent from town around this time greatly diminishes public involvement. Rescheduling the vote until the regular June ballot would allow the voters to be more informed, would increase their number, and would allow the School Board to present more current estimates.

This rescheduling would allow the voters to understand the total impact on their taxes from this project in addition to the cost increase in county taxes, reduction in the state cost sharing, and the probable increase in Camden and Rockport Town expenses.

With collectively 130-plus years experience in design and construction, it is the planning board's opinion that it is poor policy to have the same architecture/engineering firm both evaluate the current Knowlton Street complex and design the new alternatives.

The designers and educators acknowledge that the existing building is about 30 percent too big but have not seriously considered any adaptive and imaginative reuse of that surplus space. Possible reuses could be housing for seniors, affordable housing or entrepreneurial space for young businesses. But, the School Board's preferred plan is to demolish it and start again. Camden and Rockport citizens own the building complex and to proceed with demolition without fully considering reuse alternatives is short sighted.

Our concern with the published construction costs are based partly on the need to consider alternative uses and more creative design and the reliance on frequently inaccurate cost estimates that occur at this preliminary design stage. If alternative plans, utilizing much of the existing structure, were more thoroughly considered, and the plans advanced enough to secure cost estimates from contractors instead of designers, the community's confidence level in the cost estimate would increase. What will you do if the costs come in much higher than the architect's estimates? What will the tax payers do?

The meeting attendees acknowledged that this proposed project will have a significant impact on our property tax burden with Camden property owners expected to pay an additional $81 per $100,000 valuation and Rockport property owners $87 per $100,000 for the next 20 to 30 years.

This increase alone will be 6 percent, more than 2 ½ times last year's increase caused by inflation and the Snow Bowl bond.

The additional costs of $55,000 more for the county and the loss of $150,000 in state aid plus ordinary inflation in the Town of Camden's operations will increase the tax burden even more. There are many remaining years left on the bonds for the new high school and elementary school and we will likely begin funding a new technology school in the next six to eight years. Presently, interest rates are at a 30-year low so if and when interest rates increase, our taxes will also increase even more. Many older citizens, those on fixed incomes and younger ones trying to start families and careers will be taxed out of our towns.

It is vital that we continue to have excellent schools. But they need to be embraced by all the voters, be appropriately designed, and cost a reasonable amount. We look forward to working with you to try and accomplish these goals.

Lowrie Sargent, Chairman, Camden Planning Board

Jan Mackinnon, John Scholz, Richard Householder, Richard Bernhard, members

cc: Pat Finnigan, Camden Town Manager

Martin Cates, Chairman Camden Select Board

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