The Cape Elizabeth Town Council will vote next week on borrowing roughly $1.8 million for school safety improvements and to fund the initial planning stage of the school building project.

A $1.1 million School Revolving Renovation Fund bond will go toward 10 safety and maintenance projects, including a new video safety management system at all three town schools, humidity control improvements at the high school gym, and replacing an electrical panel at the high school that broke at the start of the school year. Nearly $350,000 of the bond will be paid back through a Maine Department of Education grant.

“This is very distinct, this has nothing to do with the school building project. We’d be doing this anyway,”  Superintendent Chris Record said. “Right now, we have these buildings as they are. We have students and staff in them and we need to make improvements on safety.”

The second bond to be voted on Monday, April 11, is for $650,000 for the school building project. It will enable the school department to conduct traffic studies and site surveys, plan for energy and mechanical systems, and get a more accurate picture and cost for the project, Record said.

“This would have to be done before or after the bond vote,” he said. “We think, whether someone votes for this or not, by getting the schematic design first, everyone’s going to have more information on what they’re voting on.”

The new building project would replace the elementary and middle school building, which consultants and developers say has exceeded its lifespan. It will also include renovations and upgrades to the high school, expanding its lifespan by roughly 15 years.

The necessity of the project and its rising costs have been a source of concern for taxpayers. What in 2019 was estimated to be an $80 million project is now projected to cost between $108 million and $142 million. Some have argued that the elementary and middle school building could be renovated instead, but the school department argues maintenance and upkeep costs would just continue to grow.

The School Board on Monday gave the Town Council an update on the project, including potential tax implications, but Town Manager Matthew Sturgis emphasized that the figures will change after a planned reevaluation next year.

The board estimates that if the town borrows $100 million for the project with a 2.5% interest rate over a 20-year period, the owner of a home assessed at $500,000 would pay an additional $2,352 in taxes in year one of the payment. If the loan is to be paid over 30 years, that homeowner would pay an additional $1,878.

The tax hike would then decrease year by year. In the fifth year of payment, which is likely to be 2030, it would be $2,041 under the 20-year plan or $1,615 in a 30-year plan.

After the town revaluation, Sturgis said, the overall tax rate will go down, minimizing the impact of the project costs to taxpayers.

“Let’s say you go for a $500,000 house which is, right now, about a $10,000 tax bill,” Sturgis said, with the current tax rate of $20.26. “If you go up to a $24 (tax rate), that’s going to increase it up to 14 grand, let’s say 13.5, but the tax rate is going to drop.”

In 2002, ahead of a revaluation conducted in 2003, Sturgis said, the tax rate was $22.64. After the revaluation, the tax rate went down to $14.20.

Regardless of what the tax rate ends up being, the cost of the project would not hit taxpayers until 2025, Record said, when the project is expected to be completed.

Throughout the preliminary stages of the project, Record has consistently urged the public to provide input, and that is to continue throughout the schematic phase, he said.

“We want to hear from people,” he said. “I am interested in talking with anyone who wants to talk about the project and have frank conversations and answer the tough questions. I want our voters, whether they support it or not, to be informed.”

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Cape council to vote next week on borrowing for school safety upgrades, school building project planning – Press Herald

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