Gorham resident Phil Smith says he’s worried about tax impact of a high school project on the elderly homeowners.

A scattering of 50 people Tuesday attend a public forum in the high school auditorium to hear about a proposed renovation/expansion project for the school.

GORHAM — School officials will look for reductions in a proposed $96.8 million concept plan to renovate and expand Gorham High School and could delay a referendum.

The High School Building Committee will work with its consultant for possible changes to reduce the scope of the concept plan to find a balance between “total project cost and meeting students’ needs,” School Committee Chairman Darryl Wright said at a public forum on the project Tuesday night.

Wright also said school officials would work with the Town Council for a solution.

A timeline for the tax-payer funded project previously called for a referendum seeking voter approval in November.

“It seems like we’re rushing into this,” resident Jim Means said.

Wright said there’s “nothing to say” a proposal would go to voters this fall. “We’re not trying to push this through in November,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent Christopher Record said 50 people attended the public forum. Town Council Vice Chairwoman Suzanne Phillips and Town Councilor Lee Pratt were in the forum’s audience Tuesday.

The high school opened in 1959 and was renovated in the 1990s to house 750 students. The enrollment is now 868 and a concept plan is aimed at handling 1,100 students.

Gorham businessman Terry Webber aired his concerns about the cost of the proposed project compared to that of all-new high school in Sanford for 1,800 students. The school and a technical center cost $100.2 million, the Portland Press Herald reported last October.

Phil Smith of Ossipee Trail spoke of a project’s impact on elderly taxpayers who hope to age in place in their homes. “I can’t wrap my mind around $96 million,” Smith said.

Means cited the potential impact on taxpayers even with a reduced project cost.

“According to the town of Gorham’s Finance Office, a $50 million expenditure will cost a taxpayer with a home valued at $250,000 $600 per year just for the brick and mortar, no operational costs, teacher salaries, etc.,” Means said.

Several residential neighbors of the high school voiced concerns at the forum about a high school project expanding onto a portion of Robie Park and closing down a section of Access Road, routing added traffic onto Ball Park Road.

Lisa Bolduc of Sylvan Road wants school officials to verify with the Maine Department of Transportation whether Access Road that connects Morrill Avenue to Narragansett Street could be closed.

Gorham’s population is growing and Noah Miner said the town has the “headaches” of a city. “I don’t like the idea of closing Access Road,” he said.

Jim Edwards of Sylvan Road said, “Traffic is a big issue here.”

The School Department’s consultant, Dan Cecil of Harriman Architects and Engineers, said Ball Park Road would be upgraded. “We’re not reducing access to the site (high school),” Cecil said.

Bolduc suggested that the middle school site would be of sufficient size to also have a high school while Edwards advocated relocating high school athletic fields to the middle school property, which could support a big event and parking.

Means said the town needs to think how education would be delivered in the near future and might not need brick and mortar. He called for a strategic plan.

Miner and Mike Chabot of Morrill Avenue favored saving Robie Park. A gift to the town from the defunct Gorham Village Corporation in 1958, the park came with recreation restrictions but the town went to court last year to have restrictions lifted.

Claire Miner said she was disappointed that Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak didn’t attend the forum and she had hoped town councilors would be on stage with school officials to answer questions about the park.

Phillips said Wednesday that Paraschak has provided school officials with all information about the park. Phillips said Paraschak met Monday morning with Town Council Chairman Benjamin Hartwell, Superintendent Heather Perry and Wright.

Paraschak said in an email Wednesday he had a commitment Tuesday night. “In general,” he said, “Heather will tell me if she is looking for a particular council or municipal staff commitment to be on hand to answer any questions for any of their meetings or events.”

“I know the council has been heavily involved as well as our municipal staff despite this being a school project, and going forward I suspect will be even more so for the next six months to a year while different and more cost effective solutions for the projects are explored,” Paraschak said.

“My door is always open if anyone wants to stop by to ask a question.”

The Building Committee will meet next at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 11, on the second floor of the municipal center, 75 South St.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 780-9089 or email [email protected]