SCARBOROUGH — While some townspeople remain unconvinced that Wentworth Intermediate School should be replaced, others who attended a public forum on Monday evening strongly endorsed the $39 million building proposal that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Photos displayed at the forum, held at Scarborough High School, showed groundwater seeping into the school’s basement crawl space, mold growing on exterior siding, asbestos crumbling in window casings, former bathrooms being used as storage and instructional space, and evidence of a rodent infestation in one of 16 portable classrooms.

“My daughter is in one of the portable classrooms,” Sue Foley-Ferguson said during the two-hour forum. “(The school) needs to be replaced. That’s it.”

A few residents questioned the cost, size and need for the project, particularly when renovations would cost about $6 million less.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees,” Dan Green said in promising to vote against the bonding referendum.
Paul Koziell, chairman of the 40-member building committee that developed the Wentworth proposal, said replacing the school is the best way to avoid costs associated with displacing students during a renovation project. A new school would be built beside the nearly 50-year-old school, which would be torn down afterward. Construction would begin in 2012 and the new school would open in 2014.

Koziell also noted that other problems with the existing school could be discovered during a renovation project, which likely would drive up costs.

“It’s not quality construction to begin with,” Kelly Murphy, another building committee member, told about 125 people in the auditorium.

In recent years, Wentworth has been plagued by escalating heating costs and mold, radon and air quality problems. Much of the school lacks insulation, fire sprinklers and bathrooms.

The district has spent $1.4 million on repairs and remediation in recent years and probably will have to spend an additional $3 million in the next several years if the school isn’t replaced, supporters said.
Wentworth was built as a junior high school in 1963. A wing was added in 1974 and portable classrooms were added in 1988.

The school now serves 775 students in grades 3 through 5. It also hosts community recreation programs and its kitchen prepares meals for the town’s three other elementary schools as well as Wentworth students.

At 163,000 square feet, the new school would be about 60,000 square feet larger than the existing school and would feature a geothermal heating and cooling system.

“It’s about being responsible and building for growth,” Koziell said.

Supporters said hunger for work in the construction industry could draw bids from contractors across New England and help reduce the project’s costs. Also, 4.5 percent interest on a 30-year bond would cost taxpayers about $27 million, but the potential for interest rates as low as 3 percent could reduce debt service by $9 million, said Town Manager Tom Hall.

For the owner of a $300,000 home, borrowing money to build a new intermediate school will cost about $170 per year in property taxes, supporters said.

“There’s nothing you could do for ($170) that will increase your property value as much as a new school,” Murphy said.

Anyone interested in seeing the school’s condition firsthand is invited to tour the building at noon Thursday.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]