This memo outlines the history of the Camden Rockport Middle School (CRMS) construction project. No position is taken with respect to the approval of this project. The hope is that with this document and other information, voters will be enabled to make an informed decision about the future of CRMS.
History: While there has been discussion for some years of the need to renovate the CRMS, it's serious examination commenced in 2008. This higher level of consideration percolated through 2011 in the SAD 28 Facilities Committee. Next, an item was included in the 2013-14 SAD 28 budget authorizing hiring an outside firm to study the facility and to work with the community in developing a plan for renovating CRMS.
The firm hired was Oak Point Associates among whose architectural specialties is school design. Since making this contract Oak Point and the SAD 28 Board have taken significant, on-going steps to involve the community in the plans development for CRMS. Oak Point and the School Board have held four(4) community forums on this project starting in the fall of 2013 with a fifth scheduled for 13 January 2015.
Those forums specifically sought input from community members on the way forward. Furthermore, Oak Point has presented four different renovation plans and three concepts for new construction. More on the options below.
Need: Why, one might ask, is it necessary to either renovate or to replace CRMS?
Here are a few of the reasons:
- The existing CRMS is significantly larger than the space required for the anticipated 400 plus/minus SAD 28 middle school students. That extra space must be heated and maintained.
- Because the existing building is very spread out, there is a lot of education time lost during transitions from class to class. Some transitions are as long as 950 feet.
- At this time there are $9.367 million in deferred capital renewal projects to the existing building. It needs a lot of work.
- The present building has significant ADA, Life Safety, Ventilation and Alarm issues.
- The existing building is enormously expensive to heat. We are told that a new "right sized"
school, designed for heating efficiency would result in heating costs being reduced from about $165,000 to $95,000 per year.
- The present school is not configured in a way that facilitates 21st Century teaching methods.
There are many details of the issues with the present building in the report that Oak Point has prepared for SAD 28. Anyone not familiar with this school would benefit from examining that report. Here is a link to it: http://www.fivetowns.net/crmsbuild/content/crmssummary.pdf
Discussion: For years discussion of the future of CRMS by the Facilities Committee and SAD 28 School Board focused on renovation of the existing school. The School Board felt that when the Camden Rockport Elementary School was built a commitment had been made to keep the Middle School in Camden. And, after all, SAD 28 already has a Middle School in Camden. Much discussion of Middle School needs took place, a number of informal, schematic, examinations were made of what could be done to make CRMS work for students and faculty.
When Oak Point was hired to develop a plan for the future of CRMS, they started their work by, among other things, soliciting input from community members at a 24 October 2013 forum as to needs and desires with respect to a renovated CRMS. Oak Point also interviewed PTA members, CRMS staff and teachers and SAD 28 Administrators. These discussions and other research enabled Oak Point to present five(5) massing diagrams to the public forum conducted on
29 January 2014. The purpose of that presentation was to test public sentiment for renovation of CRMS, new or substantially new construction, and site location of a renovated/new school. A poll of those present indicated a preference for new or substantially new construction.
Based upon that feedback, Oak Point created three(3) options for renovating CRMS and one plan for new construction. Those plans were presented at a 20 March 2014 public forum.
The first of those renovation proposals, at an estimated cost of $17.6 million, would have somewhat reduced the footprint of the school. In any renovation, the State would require that the many code issues existent in the present CRMS building be addressed. This, and the other renovation proposals, included that remediation as part of the costing. It is important to note that adoption of this particular renovation plan would involve significant student disruption over one full school year. Despite the anticipated investment:
- The resulting building would continue to require significant annual maintenance.
- Energy costs would remain significantly higher than for comparably sized buildings.
- Building Security would still have major issues.
- Pedestrian safety would not have been addressed.
- Travel times in the building would continue to impact instructional time.
The straw poll taken among those present at the 20 March 14 forum indicated no support for this renovation plan.
At this same meeting two (2) additional renovation plans were presented. Both of these plans involved removing portions of the existing building, reconfiguring the school site to address safety and traffic flow issues and additions of new space in place of demolished structures.
The pros and cons of these two plans are completely presented in the Oak Point report. One of them was estimated to cost $23.6 million and the other $25 million.
Here are some comments with regard to the $25 million plan from Oak Point: "After renovations and additions, the building would be approximately 101,450 s.f. (Note: significantly larger than the proposed 83,400 s.f. new construction) Exterior walls that remain would be insulated , new mechanical systems, electrical systems and improvements to the interior finishes are included in the scope of work.
Work on this option would require multiple phases over the course of three consecutive summers and two school years. Some relocation of individual classes would be required and it is estimated that two portable classrooms would be needed through the course of construction"
The estimated cost of these two plans is important because those costs significantly impacted the thinking of all those who saw and discussed them in comparison with investing in new construction. Those commenting were also concerned over the educational challenges that the renovation projects presented during construction. Finally, there were questions as to whether or not it made sense to spend $23.6 or $25 million in this manner. In the end, neither of these two renovation plans were supported at the 20 March 14 meeting.
The plan that Oak Point presented for new construction calls for a school of 83,400 s.f.,
determined to be the size required to accommodate the anticipated student population and meet the educational criteria established in the various public forums. The estimated cost of this school is $24.1 million - less than the cost of one of the above proposed renovation plans and just slightly more expensive than the other. The February 2015 referendum asks for approval to spend up to $28 million. Why the difference? Included in the $28 million is $285,000 to reconfigure the Bus Barn back to a bus barn from its present office and class room use and $3,798,230 to renovate the Mary E. Taylor School for use as: Administrative Offices, the Zenith Program and Adult Education. Constructing a new CRMS would result in, among other things:
- A school configured to meet 21st Century educational needs, with in particular flexible educational spaces.
- A compact building attuned to the needs of students and teachers particularly with regard to circulation.
- An efficient structure incorporating significant savings, as above, in utility costs.
- A safer structure completely compliant with State and Federal requirements.
- A building moved significantly away from Knowlton Street addressing safety issues.
- A school that it can be hoped would suit Camden/Rockport needs for fifty years.
Financial: The major challenge of this project, whether it is a renovation or new construction, is the cost and the financing thereof. There are a number of factors to consider here, one of the important ones being that there has not recently been a more opportune time to incur debt than now. Interest rates are historically low.
On the other hand, there will be no State money for this project. The State currently is not approving funds for new school construction. Such State support is unlikely any time soon. So, the construction cost will fall completely on the shoulders of Camden and Rockport taxpayers.
It is estimated that bonding the requested $28 million will add approximately $0.87 to the mil rate in Rockport and $0.81 to Camden's mil rate. Those mil rate increases will not soon be reduced. It is projected that this debt would be incurred in 2016-17. The debt for RES West will be paid off in 2020-21, but that payoff will only reduce the mil rates for Camden and Rockport by about $0.08 It would not be until 2022-2023 when the debt for construction of Camden Hills High School is paid off that significant debt relief would occur, at that point mill rate reductions of approximately $.33 for Camden and $.36 for Rockport.
Conclusion & Action: The above outline addresses the most salient points about the CRMS project. Much more detail can, however, be found in the Oak Point report. It is available in hard copy in the Superintendent's Office or, as mentioned above, at the following link on line: http://www.fivetowns.net/crmsbuild/content/crmssummary.pdf There is also extensive information in a flyer entitled "It's Time CRMS Building Project FAQ." I commend both to your attention. There are also two more opportunities to gain information and to ask questions about this project prior to the February vote: A Public Forum, 13 January 2015 at 7:00 PM in the Rockport Opera House; And a public hearing Monday, 02 February at 6:00 PM, at CRMS.
It is crucial that voters make an informed decision about the CRMS renovation. This project is important to the education of our children while also presenting financial challenges for the residents of Camden and Rockport. Voters will need to find what is for them the balance between these two considerations.
Alex Armentrout, of Rockport, for VIE — Citizens for Value In Education