Gorham town councilors and school officials meet Tuesday. Councilors didn’t buy a proposed $72 million Gorham High School project. Robert Lowell / American Journal

GORHAM — Town councilors effectively killed a $72 million proposal to renovate and expand the high school Tuesday when they let the School Committee know they do not support the plan.

The councilors met with school officials to discuss the high school, which opened in 1959 and was last renovated in 1994. Town taxpayers would have shouldered the cost of a new project without benefit of state funding.

Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said the project would raise the tax rate $3 per $1,000 of valuation. Taxes on a home with a valuation of $300,000 would have risen $900 a year.

Town Council Chairwoman Suzanne Phillips said the $72 million price tag was a problem and that in all fairness she couldn’t ask taxpayers to spend the money.

Town Councilor Lee Pratt feared a tax increase to support the project would drive businesses out of town.

Town Council Vice Chairman Ronald Shepard said, “The impact on the mil rate is staggering.”

No vote was taken, but it was clear the council wasn’t buying the project.

As a next step, School Committee Chairman Stewart McCallister called for a comprehensive facilities study, and Superintendent Heather Perry backed that plan. All municipal and town facilities would be reviewed.

Paraschak suggested hiring a third party to conduct the study.

One possibility that surfaced in the past was building a new municipal center and converting the current building for high school use.

A school building committee formed in 2016 looked at three final options for a high school project that were estimated at $96.8 million, $75.6 million and $71.9 million. The building committee voted last October to recommend the $71.9 million option to the School Committee.

The School Committee voted in November to send the proposal to the Town Council, and it requested the joint meeting to discuss the plan.

School Committee Bill Benson said he voted against bringing the proposal to the council. Benson Tuesday pointed to other concerns across the district.

“It doesn’t address all our needs,” he said.

Besides adding portable classrooms to deal with overcrowded schools in the district, mechanical and electrical systems in buildings are wearing out.

“Schools are old and they are full.” McCallister said after the meeting.

According to the School Department, 94% of the mechanical and electrical systems at Narragansett Elementary School, built in 1981, are beyond life expectancy; 94% of the systems at Village Elementary School, built in 1963, are beyond life expectancy; and 19% of systems at Gorham Middle School, built in 2003, are beyond life expectancy.

The $72 million high school project would have upgraded systems in that building, where School Committee member Kate Livingston said mechanical issues “loom over our head.”

Total estimated costs to meet critical repairs or renewal of systems over five to 10 years at the high school is pegged at $8.7 million; middle school, $3.5 million; Great Falls School, $200,000; Narragansett, $860,000; and Village, $600,000. The total estimated cost is $13.8 million.

To repair, renovate and expand the high school, a building committee several years ago developed a plan, but that was shelved while the town built a Public Safety Building.

Town Councilor Jim Hager, a former School Committee chairman, said a high school project costing $11-15 million in 2009 “would have served us well.”

Now, the high cost has doomed the latest plan.

After Tuesday’s meeting, former Town Councilor Shonn Moulton suggested scaling the project back to $40 million to meet the most pressing needs.

“It may not be perfect,” Moulton said.

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