March 6, 2013

Freeport councilors endorse $17 million school plan

By Matt Byrne
Staff Writer

FREEPORT — Town councilors in Freeport on Tuesday unanimously endorsed a nearly $17 million renovation of Freeport High School that is expected to go before voters in June. 

While unnecessary to the proposal's success, the endorsement was a sign of community support for  the plan that by one councilor's judgment is the largest expenditure in the town's recent history. 

"I've been struggling with this all week," said Councilor RIchard DeGrandpre. He pointed to the cost to property owners, who would see a jump in the tax rate to pay for bonds that would fund the expansive renovations and upgrades.

He estimated the project's cost would add about 70 cents to the town's current tax rate of $15.45 per thousand dollars of home value, or about $175 a year to the tax bill on a $250,000 home.

If approved by voters, the project's $16.9 million cost would be divided proportionally between taxpayers in Freeport, Pownal, and Durham, whose students attend the regionalized district that was formed four years ago.

The Pownal Board of Selectmen heard a presentation Monday about the plan.

The plan calls for a reorganization of the school and its campus, adding classroom space and parking and bringing existing facilities into compliance with accessibility laws.

Other improvements will add a running track to the grounds and upgrade and reconfigure playing fields. The school is one of three in the state of its size without a track.

The renovations would also make way for permanent classrooms for special education, which are currently housed in a double-wide trailer.

In addition to wanting facilities improvements, students, administrators, and parents have complained of overcrowding at the school. Enrollment is expected to grow from 540 this year to 688 in a decade, according to the school. 

Councilor Andy Wellen said the structural upgrades deserve the town's support.

"There are aspects of this project that are just essential," Wellen said.

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