SANFORD — All but a handful of the 217 Sanford residents who cast ballots in a two-part straw poll Tuesday on the concept design of a new high school an technical center supported the proposal.

A binding vote will follow at a referendum, currently scheduled for January. And while one resident voiced his dismay about a January ballot ”“ alluding to the likelihood of wintery weather keeping senior citizens at home, rather than at the polls, school officials said the January ballot is necessary because of the timeline imposed by the state. Superintendent of Schools David Theoharides pointed out that absentee ballots will be available.

Next week, the State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the concept.

The state is poised to fund $92.1 million of the project for a new high school and technical center that expands space and course offerings, particularly in the area of technical education, where staffing is also paid by the state, said Theoharides. The city’s share of the project will be either the base option of $7.9 million, or a supplemental package for $10.6 million.

Impact to the average homeowner with a home valued at $160,000 in the base scenario, which includes what the state will pay and what the city will pick up, would result in a decrease in their tax bill of about $22. The supplemental package, if ultimately approved in a binding vote, would be all but a wash. City Manager Steve Buck said the average taxpayer would see an annual property tax decrease of about $1.

Annual bond payments for the new building will be more than what the city currently pays for bonded items plus portable building rentals and off-site rental fees, and energy consumption for the much larger building is expected to be more as well. Recurring costs like insurance, water, sewer and other services are expected to be considerably less, however, resulting in an overall annual cost of about $1.3 million for the new school, while the current school cost is about $1.45 million annually.

Community funded items in the base package ”“ where the state pays $92.1 million and the city $7.9 million ”“ include some items that the state won’t fund, and items that the building committee felt should be included as the building is being constructed. Included are bleachers in the practice gym and a concession stand, dehumidifying some special education areas, field irrigation, bleachers at the competition field and a fourth tennis court to allow for state-level competitions.

In the supplemental package, where the state would pay the same $92.1 million and Sanford would pick up $10.6 million, which includes everything in the base package, an additional 1,500 seats would be built at the competition field, along with additional parking at the stadium, an artificial turf field and dehumidifying of athletic areas and the rest of the building.

Principal Marianne Sylvain said without a new building, the school faces potential loss of accreditation. There’s a lack of space at the high school, and technical offerings are limited because of space issues ”“ there are 12 portable classrooms around the school building. As well, there’s poor security, and the pre-1973 school doesn’t meet handicapped access requirements.

One resident said the current high school, which may be converted to a middle or elementary school, will still have recurring costs ”“ but school officials pointed out that Sanford is also on the state’s construction list for a new elementary school. The current thinking, though not formalized, is that the current high school could be retrofitted to serve as a middle school, significantly decreasing the current recurring costs, while the junior high school could become an elementary school, and Lafayette School and Willard School will be closed.

As to the new high school and technical center, new onsite programs will include marketing and management, business services, criminal justice, cosmetology, expanded fire science and emergency medical services, health occupations, early childhood education, culinary arts and automotive collision repair.

Retired teacher Roland Cote said he likes the idea of a new school, but with a caveat.

“I think we should spend every penny the state gives us and no more,” he said.

Someone else asked about the heating plan for the new building and suggested geothermal. It was examined, along with some other alternatives, but the state would pick up only 50 percent of the cost, school officials said. Ultimately, gas was chosen.

Building committee member and Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council Executive Director Jim Nimon said the school plan is, in his view, well thought out. And with low interest rates, the time is right to borrow, he said.

“This is a great opportunity to enhance the Sanford community,” said Athletic Director Gordie Salls. “It will create opportunities for our kids they don’t have now.”

At the straw poll, taken at Sanford High School cafeteria, all but six of the 217 residents casting ballots favored the base package, and all but 18 favored the supplemental package as well.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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