A rendering of the Pond Cove Elementary School entrance. Contributed / Cape Elizabeth School Department

The Cape Elizabeth School Board has cut $10.6 million from the estimated cost of the school building project by eliminating about 30,000 square feet from the design.

The School Board voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve the project, now expected to cost $115.9 million, down from $126.5 million. Board members Heather Altenburg and Elizabeth Scifres were absent.

The project now goes to the Town Council, which on Aug. 22 will hold a public hearing and decide whether to ask residents in November to vote on borrowing the $115.9 million to fund the project.

The plan calls for rebuilding Pond Cove Elementary School and Cape Elizabeth Middle School, now in one building, and renovating the high school. The oldest part of the Pond Cove and Middle School building was constructed in 1933.

The potential impact on taxpayers has sparked criticism from some residents and town councilors. The original price tag of $126.5 million would have increased the property tax rate by 25.6%, according to Town Manager Matt Sturgis. Councilor Nicole Boucher, chairperson of the finance committee, said new tax impact figures would be available Thursday at the subcommittee’s evening meeting, after The Forecaster’s deadline.

“I think we’ve had to make some tough choices so far, it’s not easy,” said Superintendent Chris Record. “We’ve been thinking about the taxpayers, every single household in this community and what this project means for them in terms of their taxes, but also in terms of the investment in the community and the value of these new schools to the community.”


After trimming expenditures and planning to raise private funds for some aspects of the project, the School Board’s approved plan puts the cost of the two new schools and their common areas, such as a gymnasium and cafeteria, at roughly $101.2 million. Another $9.8 million is allocated for site work and athletic fields and $4.9 million will be used to renovate the high school.

“We performed what was called a ‘value engineering exercise’ where we actually go through every part of the scope in the buildings and ask ourselves, ‘can it be smaller,'” said Calen Colby, president of Colby Company Engineers. “It still has to meet code, it still has to perform what the teachers and the administrators asked the buildings to do, and we still want it to last for 50-plus years.”

New plans reduce classrooms and break-out gathering spaces by 2,800 square feet for a savings of $770,000, according to Colby. Reducing the size of the gymnasium by 1,500 square feet saves $450,000, reducing the auditorium by 6,000 square feet saves $2 million, and taking away one of the proposed athletic fields saves $750,000.

In total, the new plan trims roughly 30,000 square feet off the original designs, bringing the size of the new schools and their common areas to 219,573 square feet.

A total of $5 million in fundraising could offset some of the reductions, including $2 million to increase seating in the auditorium from 350 to 650 and $200,000 for gymnasium features, including fitness areas and concession stands. The school department also intends to raise $700,000 for outdoor spaces, such as a planned roof terrace and amphitheater. An additional $2.1 million from fundraising would “allow further enhancements as the project goes forward,” Colby said.

While recognizing concerns over the project’s cost, school board members stressed the need to replace the schools.

“The reason why I was interested in running for the school board in the first place was because of the buildings,” said board member Philip Saucier, who was elected in 2019. “I really was surprised by the state of the buildings; I really was kind of shocked by them … they’re not indicative of what a good school system we have, but also what people in this community demand.”

A rendering of the Cape Elizabeth Middle School entrance. Contributed / Cape Elizabeth School Department

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