Rendering of proposed Cape Elizabeth Middle School entrance.  Conceptual Design Renderings by Colby Co. Engineering and Simons Architects

CAPE ELIZABETH — Town voters will decide in November whether to fund a controversial $116 million school building proposal that divided town councilors Monday night.

The council voted 4-3 to hold a referendum on Nov. 8 that asks voters to authorize borrowing the money to design, build and equip new elementary and new middle schools, and to renovate Cape Elizabeth High School, under a plan that would increase tax bills by 25 percent.

Councilors also voted 6-1 to put a second question on the ballot to authorize spending an additional $5 million, to be raised in gifts and grants, for additional auditorium seating, solar panels and other upgrades to the new elementary and middle schools.

The votes came after more than two hours of public testimony and lengthy deliberation by councilors, particularly over the project’s cost to taxpayers.

Borrowed at 4 percent interest for 30 years, a $116 million bond would require nearly $72 million in interest payments and add $1,934 to the annual property tax bill for a home valued at $400,000 for tax purposes – roughly a 25 percent increase, according to an analysis by John Quartararo, municipal finance director.

Penny Jordan, one of three councilors who voted against going to referendum, pitched an unsuccessful alternative proposal that would have capped the project at $95 million and raised tax bills about $1,500 – just under 20 percent.


“That’s still a lot of money, but it’s slightly more affordable,” Jordan said Tuesday. “The Town Council has an obligation to act with the interests of all taxpayers and citizens in mind. If that $116 million proposal were to pass, it’s going to have an impact on a lot of people, especially older residents and young families.”

Jordan, who voted against the referendum, along with Susan Gillis and Timothy Reiniger, said she supports the schools and believes families renew communities. But she worries that skyrocketing home prices and shifting demographics show that Cape Elizabeth is becoming off limits to all but the wealthy, and that more residents live here part time. A recent housing diversity study found that only 30 percent of the town’s households have children under age 18.

Rendering of proposed Pond Cove Elementary School entrance. Conceptual Design Renderings by Colby Co. Engineering and Simons Architects

The student population has fallen steadily over the last 10 years, from 1,647 in 2013 to 1,485 in 2022, state records show.

“I see a town where there’s no way into the game anymore for some people,” Jordan said. “The town has to be welcoming to people at all economic levels.”

Councilor Caitlyn Jordan voted in favor of the referendum, along with Gretchen Noonan, Nicole Boucher and Jeremy Gabrielson, chairperson. She was prepared to vote for the alternative proposal presented by Penny Jordan, a distant cousin, but ultimately she decided it would cut too much and threw her support behind the $116 million proposal.

“It needs to go to the voters,” Caitlyn Jordan said. “The school board brought (the cost) down as low as they could go. So much work has gone into this proposal, we might as well see what the voters think about it. We can’t just keep kicking it down the road, because the problems in our school buildings are only going to get worse.”


The school board voted 5-0 on Aug. 9 to move forward with the school building proposal – after cutting $10.6 million and about 30,000 square feet from the project.

School and municipal officials have held 85 public meetings since 2017 to determine how to address a wide variety of deficiencies in Pond Cove Elementary School and Cape Elizabeth middle and high schools – a complex of buildings that dates to 1933, Superintendent Chris Record said in a written update to the council.

“There have been numerous additions to our schools decades ago leading to a sprawling, energy inefficient complex with a deteriorating infrastructure, a slab (foundation) with no insulation, and classrooms that are not conducive to 21st-century teaching and learning,” Record said. “New schools are a better investment than costly renovations.”

About 35 residents spoke at Monday’s meeting, including about 20 who opposed the $116 million proposal. However, 110 of 139 letters to the council showed overwhelming support, Boucher said.

Matt Grymek of Spurwink Avenue told the council that he’s a parent who represents many families in town who support the school project as proposed.

“Not wanting to pay for it doesn’t eliminate the need (for) new schools,” Grymek said. “I believe it’s in the best interests of families in the community. … Let the people vote on this.”

Cameron Brown of McAuley Road said his four children attended town schools, at times when they had mobile classrooms. Now that he has finished paying off their college loans, he said, he doesn’t want to pay taxes on an “excessive” school building proposal.

“(The designers) see Cape Elizabeth and they see endless money,” Brown said. At the same time, the school board wants to compete with Scarborough and Falmouth to have the best schools at taxpayers’ expense, he said.

“We all want the best … but we can’t afford it,” Brown said, before urging the council to send the project back to the school board with budget constraints. “They need to spend the money like it’s theirs.”

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