At a workshop Monday, Norm Justice, Gorham schools’ facilities director, details the sitework needed to expand Narragansett Elementary School with modular classrooms. 

GORHAM — A referendum to spend $2.8 million to expand Narragansett Elementary School with modular classrooms is on the front burner after the Town Council nixed a similar proposal last month.

This time around, voters would be asked to borrow money for the project as opposed to the earlier School Committee request that would have wrapped costs into the annual school budget.

“Now, we’re asking to bond this project,” Superintendent Heather Perry said Monday in a joint workshop with the Town Council and School Committee.

A public hearing and a vote to send the project to referendum is on the Town Council agenda for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 7, at the municipal center, 75 South St.

A referendum for large expenditures is required under the town charter. Phase 1 of the project would cost $2.8 million with $2 million earmarked for site work and $800,000 for modulars to house six classrooms, a common area, bathrooms, utility rooms and an approximately 3,200-square-foot cafeteria. Phase 2 in three years could cost another $2.8 million for further modular expansion.

The School Committee favors a lease-purchase agreement. The project could be eligible for a state modular reimbursement program for lease payments.

Site work includes sewer, underground drainage, new electrical service, natural gas, a frost-free foundation, and connectors to the modulars.

Gorham is ramping up capacity to handle enrollment growth in coming years at its three elementary schools, Narragansett, Great Falls and Village. As the largest site of the three, Narragansett was tagged by the School Committee to receive modulars.

Modulars would be attached to the rear of the school.

School officials view classrooms in modulars as the most cost-effective, mid-range solution to handle more students. Eventually, the town will have to build a new school the size of Great Falls,  Perry told town councilors at Monday’s workshop.

The modulars could serve Narragansett School for 10 to 15 years. Norm Justice, facilities director, said he wouldn’t recommend the modulars for a long-term solution.

“I don’t like the temporary nature of any of this,” Town Councilor James Hager said.

Town Councilor Ronald Shepard said, “A bunch of money going out the window.”

In conjunction with modulars at Narragansett School, the district would shift attendance zones for the 2020-21 school year to ease overcrowding at Great Falls and Village schools. Redrawing the zones might lead to parents’ pushback.

School Committee Chairman Darryl Wright said parents would understand, but “it’s not going to be easy, a lot of parents will be upset.”

The modular project would require Planning Board approval and Justice was to meet Wednesday with Tom Poirier, the town planner and acting zoning administrator.

If approved by voters in June, site work could begin in July and occupancy could be approved by July 2020.

“We need this expansion at Narragansett and we need to work on it now,” said School Committee member Bill Benson.

Down the road, Gorham could be in the state’s line for a new elementary school with the state funding up to 85 percent of it. Benson said he would rather have the state fund a high school project for 85 percent.

Gorham is looking at a proposed high school renovation/expansion proposal that would saddle the town’s taxpayers with paying for the whole load without state money.

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

Perry

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