Jeff Porter, superintendent of School Administrative District 51, discusses a new primary school with Cumberland and North Yarmouth officials Monday at a joint meeting at the Wescustogo Hall & Community Center in North Yarmouth. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

NORTH YARMOUTH — A new primary school, which could go to voters this November, could cost roughly $36.4 million, School Administrative District 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter said Monday at a joint meeting of the Cumberland Town Council, North Yarmouth Selectboard and SAD 51 Board of Directors.

The structure, which SAD 51’s Building Committee recommends be built in North Yarmouth, could house 650 pre-kindergarten to second grade students. It would adhere to a state guideline of 140 square feet per student, which would total 91,000 square feet. At $400 per square foot for site work, the architect fee, construction and moveable equipment, the total bond package could come to $36.4 million – a number Porter stressed is an “extremely preliminary” estimate.

In order to counter a spike in debt service during the school’s projected peak bond payment year in fiscal year 2027, SAD 51 would stabilize its debt at a fixed annual amount, reserving capital funds toward the debt and tiering new debt between fiscal years 2022 and 2027. The district would apply those reserve funds starting in FY 2027 to maintain annual debt service at a fixed level. The reserves would in effect serve as a cushion against increased debt.

A public input session is to be held in the Gyger Gym at Greely High School at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28.

Pointing to the “enormous cost” of the school, Cumberland Councilor Bob Vail suggested an elementary school, rather than primary, be built to address a broader spectrum of needs. Porter noted that primary schools tend to be less expensive than other schools, housing smaller gyms and cafeterias than those required in middle and high schools.

There is “almost zero chance” state aid would be available for the school, Porter said.

Cumberland Councilor Shirley Storey-King raised concern about other capital expenses on the horizon, such as a new high school pool.

“We don’t want any more surprises,” she said. “Some people feel that this new school is a surprise because we built a performing arts center when we knew we needed a school.”

The $9.5 million price tag for the Greely Center for the Arts had stirred controversy, and support from Cumberland and North Yarmouth voters in November 2016 came by a margin of only 2%, 4,149 to 3,953.

Scott Poulin, SAD 51’s finance director, said work will be needed on the pool vessel and that improvements at the Mabel I. Wilson school might be required “in terms of security, traffic and also on the envelope of the building.”

Increasing enrollment has triggered the push for a new school. Two independent surveys concluded 10 years ago that enrollment this year would be 1,775-1,831, but the level reached 2,129 this year, including 28 pre-K students. A study done last October forecasts enrollment to surpass 2,700 by 2028-29.

Enrollment at the Wilson school, which is about 81,000 square feet and houses pre-K to third grade with a capacity for 600 students, has risen from 541 in March 2015 to 692 in September 2019, prompting the installation of three modular classrooms.

The Building Committee is working with project architect Oak Point Associates to investigate three potential sites and associated estimates, and is slated to deliver a final concept design in June. Although North Yarmouth is the panel’s preferred location – in part to restore a SAD 51 presence after the 2014 closure of North Yarmouth Memorial School and because space on SAD 51’s Cumberland campus for a new building is limited – the committee is investigating three sites to conduct due diligence, Porter said.

Two sites in the center of North Yarmouth are on the table: one near Wescustogo Hall & Community Center and one at Sharp’s Field, next to Town Hall. A town-owned tract in Cumberland, bordered by Tuttle Road and the Town Forest, is also being considered.

If a new school is built, the Wilson school would house grades 3 through 5, Greely Middle School grades 6 through 8, with Greely High School housing the remainder of the district’s students.

Comments are not available on this story.