SCARBOROUGH – Residents this fall will be asked to spend up to $39.1 million to replace the Wentworth Intermediate School.

With high praise for the committee that proposed the project, the Town Council on Wednesday night accepted the preliminary design and cost estimate for the new school, and resolved to place the matter on the Nov. 8 ballot. The actual ballot language has not yet been drafted.

Judith Roy, council chair, said the building committee, the school board and the council will need to rally public support in the next few months.

“It’s frugal,” Roy said of the plan. “There is a wide range of support, but there is also that fear, because of what the economy is doing at this point in time.”

The building committee had pledged to propose a school that is smaller and less expensive than a $38.3 million plan rejected at the polls in 2006. Another bond on the ballot that year, proposing $16.5 million for renovations at Scarborough Middle School, also failed.

Paul Koziell, chair of the 40-member building committee, said both goals were met.

At 163,000 square feet, the proposed building is 21,800 square feet smaller than the earlier proposal, and it includes 40 classrooms instead of 46.

The base construction cost of the proposed school is $37.7 million, about $600,000 less than the 2006 plan, Koziell said.

Unlike 2006, though, this year’s proposal includes an optional geothermal heating and cooling system. Such a system would add about $1.4 million, bringing the overall project cost to roughly $39.1 million.

At an upcoming meeting, the council will decide whether to include the geothermal system in a single ballot question for voters, to present it as an option, or to go with traditional heating and cooling systems. Building committee members are pushing for the geothermal system. It would cost more up front, but would save the town a projected $73,500 each year on energy costs. Engineers estimate the system would likely pay off the initial investment in 19 years or less.

“In my opinion, it is worth it. This is a 50-year building,” Koziell said.

Councilor Richard Sullivan Jr. said he supports a single ballot question that includes the geothermal system. Sullivan noted the turmoil in the Middle East and the state of the U.S. economy.

“It is a good, responsible way to heat and cool the new school,” he said.

Wentworth serves about 775 students in the third, fourth and fifth grades. Supporters say the school must be replaced for a variety of reasons, including overcrowding and health concerns from mold and asbestos.

The proposal includes a full-size gymnasium that would be used by multiple schools, including high school athletic programs and community leagues and events; office and storage space for Scarborough’s community services; and a kitchen where food would be prepared for about 1,500 students from the town’s three primary schools and Wentworth.

Just in the past week, the building committee made some final cuts, totaling around $600,000. Removed were an athletic field, a maintenance shed and an additional parking lot on the back side of the planned school. Koziell said the committee will seek grants and other revenue sources for those elements.

If the new school wins public approval, construction will begin next year, with the goal of opening in fall 2014. The existing Wentworth school would be demolished.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:
[email protected]