The cost of a new Cape Elizabeth elementary and middle school and renovations at the high school has skyrocketed by tens of millions of dollars from a 2019 estimate of $80 million.

The new estimate, putting the project somewhere between $108 and $142 million, took residents aback at a public forum Monday.

“The $80 million to $140 million we’re talking about now, I have to say, is a tremendous shock,” said Jessica Sullivan, a former town councilor.


The increase is due in part to the pandemic, said James Hebert, an electrical engineer at Colby Co. Engineers. “Since those (2019) numbers were generated, there’s been a significant, exponential increase in construction costs, not just locally but also nationwide and internationally as well.”

The project, likely to be voted on in a November referendum, calls for a new Pond Cove Elementary and Middle School building to be constructed next to the existing building, which engineers say is at the end of its service life. The original Pond Cove building was built in 1934 and the middle school in 1948. Renovations, including attaching the two buildings, took place over the years, with the last one in 2004.

Work at the high school, built in 1969 and last renovated in 2004, could include ventilation system improvements and expanding the size of some classrooms and the auditorium. The renovations, estimated at between $18 million and $22 million, could extend the life of the school by about 15 years, the engineers said.


Monday’s public forum was the first of three scheduled by the Cape Elizabeth Building Oversight Committee, which consists of the superintendent, two school board members, two town councilors, representatives from Colby Co. and Simon Architects, and a number of students and staff members from the town’s three schools.


Attendees Monday were keyed in on the new estimate — and the cost to taxpayers.

Mary Ann Lynch, another former town councilor, said it was incumbent upon the committee to present the “financials” so the average taxpayer could understand them.

“If I vote for this project, what will it do to my taxes over the next 20 or so years,” Lynch asked.

Superintendent Christopher Record said that taxpayers will have that question answered in the near future and that his goal is “to be as transparent as possible.”

“You have my commitment,” Record said. “You will see it. We will be as transparent as possible so people can decide whether they support this investment or not.”


The cost and impact on taxpayers, engineers said, will become clearer once schematic designs are completed, which is the next step.

Other attendees questioned how the project changed from what was originally estimated to be a $25 million project to address safety problems in the cafeteria and entrance of the conjoined Pond Cove and Middle schools, to a complete rebuild.

“A lot of this conversation, starting back in 2017, began with the safety concerns,” said Heather Altenburg, vice chairperson of the Cape Elizabeth School Board. “Though we didn’t go with the initial plan … safety has not been ignored and it has been addressed.”

The change in direction came after a needs assessment in 2019, said Calen Colby, president of Colby Co.

“We walked through every building,” Colby said.  “We looked at the piping, we looked at the heating system, we looked at the configuration, we looked at the insulation, we looked at the energy consumption.”

The assessment determined that the Pond Cove and Middle School building should be replaced because, while conditions were “satisfactory,” they were not energy or financially efficient.

“If you look at it from the air, it’s a huge U-shape,” Colby said of the current building. “The boilers are on one end, so in order to heat and provide hot water, it’s pumped around the entire U to get to the other end. It’s neither efficient nor cost-effective.”

The needs assessment also determined that classrooms do not meet the needs of modern-day teaching and that the foundation would likely fail to meet code, meaning any efforts to rebuild the school on top of the current foundation could prove futile. Renovating the existing elementary and middle school building would only delay the inevitable complete rebuild, the assessment said.

Additional public forums are scheduled for April 7 and May 18. If funding for the project is approved in November, a tentative timeline has construction starting in October 2023 with a completion date of June 2025.

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