BRUNSWICK — Felicity Beede has “one sweater days” and “two sweater days.”

An eighth-grade social studies teacher at Brunswick Junior High School, her classroom gets so drafty that she and another teacher have to come prepared with multiple layers — one of them wears a hat. Her classroom is upstairs, in the newest section of the school, rebuilt in 1983 after a fire destroyed the eighth-grade wing and damaged a portion of the upstairs, including the library. “New” or not, if the classroom behind her is getting too noisy, Beede can just slide the wall open and ask them to quiet down — the rooms are separated by partitions.

Other teachers have similar laundry lists of concerns and complaints about the aging building, but with another $20.3 million school construction project in the works, it is unclear when the kind of renovations they want to see may be coming.

The school nurse works out of a renovated locker room, the art teacher’s walls don’t extend all the way up to the ceiling and the room often smells of sewage. Not to mention the fact that students need to walk through the chorus room (which also houses the kiln) to get to class. There’s an entire hallway of classrooms that are too small and have no windows. To get tech support, students or teachers have to walk through the library and then again through a busy classroom to the small office. There is no kitchen; lunch is instead trucked over from the nearby Coffin School.

Joan Laskey (left), assistant kitchen manager and Barbara Austin, kitchen manager, hand off a tray of french fries at Brunswick Junior High School, having to maneuver with limited space. The school does not have a full kitchen, only a small area with a few food warmers. Full entrees are cooked at Coffin School and trucked over for lunchtime. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

“It’s old and tired,” Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said of the Junior High School, calling it a “hodgepodge” of a building, with different sections built at different times and classrooms placed seemingly haphazardly.

Construction is underway at the site of the former Jordan Acres School on a new pre-K through second-grade elementary school that will open next year as the Kate Furbish School. It will replace Coffin School, which is next door to the junior high, but Coffin will need to remain at least partially open indefinitely so that the 560 students at the junior high school can have lunch every day. In the thick of new construction, it’s unclear when the Junior High School might get the attention it needs.

“We’re hoping the state will release another round of funding for construction projects,” superintendent Paul Perzanoski said.

Even with more money, it would be hard to know where to start, since fixing one problem often requires fixing another.

In 2015, even the most basic repair estimates were around $3.5 million, and architects expected the number would increase once they got started. According to principal Walter Wallace, early estimates for a new school were for more than $28.5 million, and $21 million for extensive renovations and an addition.

Brunswick Junior High School band members practice at school on Tuesday. The band room, chorus room and gym, where they have most performances, all have poor acoustics among other problems. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

One hallway slopes steeply on both sides. While Wallace says it’s not dangerous, it “just isn’t right.” There is “extensive” asbestos and PCBs in the exterior caulking. Many bathrooms aren’t up to code for people with disabilities, and until 2017, only 45 percent of the building was covered by an automatic sprinkler system. The list goes on.

The school turns 60 this year, and it is uncertain just how old it will get before serious work can be done. An application for state funding last year placed Brunswick Junior High as 44th on a list of 79 projects.

The school department has used revolving renovations funds from the Maine Department of Education for several projects, including roof repairs, bathroom redesign and sprinkler installation. These funds are essentially loans from the state which require that only a portion be repaid, based on the school’s free and reduced lunch numbers.  In 2016, the state released about $1.2 million for renovations to Coffin School and the Junior High, with about $800,000 going to the latter. The school was given another $144,000 or so in 2017 for sprinklers. For each of the two loans, 38 percent and 40 percent, respectively, were forgiven.

“We tap into state funding whenever we can, for things we don’t want to or can’t ask the taxpayers for,” Wallace said.

Still, though, many of the significant upgrades have been made through the budget process or capital improvement program, such as a $408,000 air quality project in 2009 and another, $454,000 air quality project in 2016, designed to bring the junior high up to national air quality standards. Many windows in the building had to be replaced in the last few years, and Perzanoski said that in the spring they will be replacing a steam pipe.

Funds for a school construction may take a while, and taxpayers may not be so keen on footing the bill for such a project so soon after spending $20.3 million on the Kate Furbish School.

A great deal of money has been poured into both school and municipal construction in the past 10 years — if the estimated $11 million new fire station is approved, it would bring that number up to nearly $60 million for the station, the Kate Furbish School, the new police station in 2013 and the Harriet Beecher Stowe School in 2011, 87 percent of which was funded by the state.

Municipal and school renovation projects have also been substantial. Renovations to the now-closed Hawthorne School, a high school boiler project, the combined junior high air quality projects and the school department energy conservation add up to just under $2.3 million and do not include the $1.2 million revolving renovation funds to Coffin and the junior high in 2016 and 2017, according to the town finance department. 

The Brunswick Junior High School chorus classroom is in a converted industrial arts area. The art classroom’s kiln is located behind the far partition, and students have to walk through the room to get to art class. Superintendent Paul Perzanoski identified it as one of the next problems to find a solution for. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

Deputy finance director Branden Perreault said that because of the many funding mechanisms, like loans, bonds and the budget it would be difficult to determine the correlated tax increase.

In 2015, the town council voted down a $12.5 million proposal for the also old and deteriorating Coffin and the junior high, that would have only extended the life of the schools for another 10-15 years.

“We have great teachers, we have great students — we need great infrastructure,” then-councilor John Richardson said at the time.

Aside from safety and practicality concerns, Wallace said that problems like cold classrooms, windowless classrooms and less than ideal conditions are “not a good learning environment.”

Perzanoski agreed that the sinking floor, which has already been propped up once, and the middle row windowless classrooms are some of the more pressing concerns for the school.

“We have no idea when the state might release the next round of funding,” he said. “We haven’t heard anything … We will continue to do as much as we can (until then).”

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