Cape Elizabeth Town Councilors readily agreed Monday to borrow nearly $1.2 million for school safety improvements, but borrowing $650,000 for planning for the proposed school building project sparked some debate before passing.

The council voted unanimously to approve a bond for the safety upgrades at the three town schools. That bond will fund 10 projects, including a new video safety management system at all three schools, humidity control improvements at the high school gym, and replacing an electrical panel at the high school. The state will reimburse the town for 30% of the bond, or roughly $350,000.  

The school building project bond, approved 5-1, will pay for traffic studies, site surveys and plan for energy and mechanical systems for a proposed new building to replace the elementary and middle school building. Supporters say it will also provide a more accurate estimate of the project’s cost, now priced between $108 million and $142 million.

Voters in November will decide if they want to replace the old school building, which consultants have said has outlived its life span. The proposed building project also includes renovations and upgrades to the high school.

Residents have questioned making a hefty investment in a project that could be voted down in the referendum. Councilor Tim Reiniger, the sole councilor to vote against it, agreed.

“Normally, the voters would approve the bonds before putting in the large expense for the engineering studies,” Reiniger said.


Councilor Nicole Boucher argued that the design bond is a worthy investment.

“This town has a history of doing the study to make sure that we’re doing the work we need to do, so we don’t have ‘Oh, the project went over by 30%,'” Boucher said, citing a $160,000 study conducted ahead of the $5 million Shore Road improvement project as as example.

The preliminary designs will be useful, “whether we build them now, don’t build them or build them in 10 years,” she said, and spending  $650,000 “in the context of $100 million construction, doesn’t seem as much.”

Councilor Penny Jordan agreed.

“There’s still a lot of unknowns,” Jordan said. “It may tell us it’s not time to do the project, but we have the design and the information when we’re ready.”

Some residents have argued that the elementary and middle school could make do with renovations.


But Jennifer Grymek, who has a child in the third grade and another who will be entering kindergarten in the fall, pointed to how many renovations there have been at the building.

“The oldest portion of the elementary and middle school was built in 1934,” she said at Monday’s meeting. “Since then it has been renovated, or added onto, in 1948, ’55, ’62, ’94, and 2004 … These buildings, in my opinion, have already been renovated to death.”

Jamie Joncas, who has two young children who will be attending Cape Elizabeth schools, supports the project and the bond to pay for the early design.

“I encourage the council to approve the funding of a schematic design tonight which will further assist in detailing out costs and important information for the town residents prior to voting in November,” Joncas said at the meeting.

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