Draft of next school building committee discussed

On Monday, December 12, 2022, the Town Council reviewed and made edits to a draft School Building Advisory Committee charge following a joint workshop with the School Board on November 16.   The proposed committee would be a joint ad-hoc committee of the School Board and Town Council for the development of a school building project and funding proposal to submit to the Town voters.  The committee will have co-chairs, with one chairperson being a School Board member and one being a Town Council member.  Two members, including the co-chair, will be from the School Board and shall be appointed by the School Board.  Two members, including the co-chair, will be from the Town Council and shall be appointed by the Town Council.

Councilor Nicole Boucher proposed the most substantial edit to the draft by recommending that the number of public committee members be reduced from five to three.  The reduced size would allow the committee greater agility and leave surveying and communicating with the community to a hired specialist.

Chair Jeremy Gabrielson said that he had requested the Town Manager and Superintendent to develop a schedule for completing items on the committee's charge.  This schedule would line up with the calendar's of the School Board and Town Council to ensure that the committee makes, "Appropriate recommendations for the two bodies [School Board and Town Council] to take action on at the right time."  "If we can do that and communicate clearly with the public, I don't have a lot of concerns if there are three or five public members; what I want to make sure is that we have a clear roadmap to a hopefully successful referendum," Gabrielson said.

The proposed charge of the committee is:

The Committee shall work with professionals to assess the previous school building referendum proposal and to advise the School Board and Town Council on a Building Plan and funding to address our school building needs.  The work should develop the project concept sufficiently to propose a general project(s) solution and estimate the cost for referendum purposes.  The work will include but is not limited to the following:

1) Recommending a budget for this committee's work to the Town Council and School Board;

2) Recommending a project plan and scope to address the school building needs to the School Board and Town Council;

3) Recommending a target referendum dollar range to the Town Council and School Board; and

4) Explore funding options and alternative funding sources.

The Committee shall consult with both bodies regarding it's work and recommendations.  Final approval of any Building Plan, and of a building design and construction decisions, including award of project contracts, shall be by the School Board and final approval of any referendum amount, and bond sale matters and other bond-related financial decisions shall be by the Town Council.  Further, approval of construction funding is subject to a referendum vote of the citizens of Cape Elizabeth.

Councilor Timothy Reiniger questioned why the definition of the "building project" included in the draft, addresses the educational and physical needs of only the elementary and middle schools.  Given that 62 percent of the community voted against the referendum, "Shouldn't we be open to other possibilities like doing the high school first? Why should we foreclose other creative approaches right off the bat," Reiniger asked.

Boucher commented, "I think this committee is actually opening the door to more creativity and exploration.  The first step will be to poll the community on why they voted 'no' or 'yes' and what are the major reasons for that?  Then this committee can make a range of options based on community feedback and then re-poll the community to see which one of these they can stand by."  In addition, "We don't know why 62 percent voted 'no.'  It could be that they wanted the high school; or that they voted early and didn't see the materials or go on a tour; or because of inflation," Boucher said, "And that is why we need a professional firm to collect the data and we can make a decision based on data."

The council decided to forward the suggested revisions to the School Board, as well as raise the question on how best to plan improvements for the high school.  The council also agreed to hold another joint workshop with the School Board at the first of the year to review the draft charge.  "Hopefully," Gabrielson said, the draft can be finalized and, "we can adopt it at our respective meetings in January and get the work underway expeditiously."

At the December 13 School Board meeting the following night, the board voted unanimously to disband the Building Oversight Committee.  Superintendent Christopher Record said, "That committee was charged with bringing the most recent project to referendum; that project is now complete and we are ready to shift to a new project with a new advisory committee."  Praising the efforts and expertise the Building Oversight Committee brought to their task, Record added, "Even though the referendum did not pass, the Building Committee should be proud of their work."

In reviewing edits made by the Town Council the previous evening, the consensus among board members was in support of reducing the number of public committee members to three.  Board member Cynthia Voltz said, "I am in support of reducing the number of members, but it is very important to have broad outreach and greater inclusion of the community."  Chair Elizabeth Scifres added that while she also agreed with the reduction, "I don't want people to think that if they are not part of the committee, that they can't give input; I foresee the need for numerous subcommittees and would like to see that spelled out."

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