There is discussion of replacing Pond Cove Elementary and Cape Elizabeth Middle School, a recommendation from the Cape Elizabeth Schools Building Committee last year. Catherine Bart photo

CAPE ELIZABETH — Town and school officials in Cape Elizabeth are aiming to include a bonding question to replace Pond Cove and the middle school at the June 2022 referendum.

On Sept. 1, the town council and school board, as well as school staff, discussed plans for a new school project, which comes from a facilities assessment that Colby Company, an engineering and design firm hired by the district in 2017, completed.

The Cape Elizabeth School Building Committee, based on an analysis of the assessment, recommended to the school board in December of 2020 that the Pond Cove and middle school structures needed to be replaced. In addition, funds to renovate the high school needed to be allocated.

Colby Company’s own conclusion after the assessment was that the facilities need replacement, James Hebert, an electrical engineer, said. School facilities constructed 30 or more years ago do not have the classroom space that can accommodate all staff members today.

“It was our recommendation that the existing buildings themselves, going forward, had outlasted their useful life, at least specifically for the lower and middle schools,” Hebert said. “For the high school, since it is one mostly complete structure that was done at once, it still has the ability to extend the building’s life a little bit more just so that you’re not dealing with replacing potentially two of your largest structures in the entire town at the same time.”

Heating can be an issue in the schools, Hebert said.

“If you’re looking at the existing lower and middle school now, your boiler plate is on one side of the building now and trying to get that heat all the way around the building to the other side — you don’t really get the hot water or heat that you really want,” he said. “Whereas near the boiler room or on that side is screaming hot and people are opening windows to try to evacuate that heat.”

The schools’ electrical components, like the intercom systems, are already causing troubles in the new school year, Superintendent Christopher Record said.

“They’re old, and they’re breaking down, and every time they break down, it’s a cost to fix them,” he said.

Architecture firm Simons Architect, hired by the district, designed concepts based on a desire to keep the elementary and middle schools as two distinct structures that could share facilities, like a kitchen or auditorium, but also have separate spaces, like two cafeterias, that would avoid scheduling conflicts, said Austin Smith, the firm’s principal.

Project members are currently discussing ways to keep learning interruptions to a minimum during the construction process, he said. Avoiding the use of modular classrooms is also important.

“As we go forward, we haven’t picked a site yet, but we know we’re going to be on the (Pond Cove and middle school) campus, and how do we phase it in such a way that it simplifies that transition and allows the school constant operation in a sufficient manner?” Smith said.

One of the biggest discussion points for the meeting participants was the referendum timing, with most agreeing that June of 2022 would allow for sufficient time for communication efforts and town council initial approval.

Matt Sturgis, town manager, said that a bond question would need to go in front of the council about 90 days before an election.

If June is the goal, there could be time for ample communication, information sharing and response to questions or a negative reaction, said Council Chair Jamie Garvin. Voter attendance may be greater in the June election.

“If turnout is the objective, then I think June makes the most sense,” he said.

The school board will revamp the building committee into the building oversight committee in upcoming board meetings, according to meeting materials.

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