Is building worth saving? Check it out

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — The economic climate may not nurture public support for salvaging the Memorial School.

People may not want to pay for the other option either: Demolishing the historical structure, hauling off hazardous material, and rebuilding on the town-owned lot.

Could money play a factor in deciding what to do with the building now partially-used for storage?

The most recent estimates indicate renovation costs range widely with prices between $288,000 and $864,000; while demolition and rebuilding could run the town between $845,000 and $965,000, according to an engineering consultant who was contracted by the town.

Residents have an opportunity today, this weekend, and on Monday to walk through the Memorial School, and see the interior of the building so often discussed at Casco Board of Selectmen meetings. For exact times, go to www.cascomaine.org.

Casco Town Manager David Morton said the biggest hurdle facing this town’s elected officials may not be whether to sit in the camp of renovating or building new, but instead how — and if — to ask taxpayers to get behind the construction project.

Selectmen “will have to determine that political climate before asking the community for large sums of money,” Morton said.

Currently, the town budget has “no money approved for construction, no grants to build the building for us. So, it would clearly be the taxpayers’ effort,” he said on Tuesday.

On Aug. 23, Sebago Technics Consultant Owens McCullough gave selectmen a range of price estimates for both options that selectmen has been considering — revamping the building or starting from scratch on the lot.

Renovations could come in between $40 per square foot and $120 per square foot, he said. The latter cost estimate includes salvaging only the frame of the old school, he said.

The existing building is 7,200 square feet.

Building from the ground up could cost between $130 per square foot and $150 per square foot, McCullough said. The new building would be approximately 6,500-square feet.

He said he got his numbers from general contractors statewide.

“Right now, the construction costs are all over the map. They can vary quite substantially,” he said.

According to Morton, the same tough economic environment that puts public support on shaky ground does offer one advantage, he said. The town could get the job done for a good price because there are so many contractors eager for work, he said.

The next step on the agenda for Tuesday’s selectmen meeting is to decide how to put the job out to bid.

One option for “going out to bid” would allow the town to design the blueprints, and would require hiring an engineer to assist with doing bid paperwork. Another bid process would put the responsibility on the contractor to design what the town would like and offer bid prices.

During the Aug. 23 meeting, Selectman Tracy Kimball had some questions for McCullough.

“Are we going to renovate on the high end so we get it from the start? Or are we going to spend money on a lower renovation, and spend more in five years? How can we most effectively plan for doing that – if that’s the way we want to go?” she asked.

Kimball said she was still straddling the fence on which option would be best. She said she was among those people planning to go to one of the open house events.

“People are very impassioned on both sides of the argument” of whether to revamp or rebuild, Morton said.

Selectman Paul Edes – who walked through the building during Tuesday’s open house – has sketched his plans for how the existing space could be the new town office.

Edes has favored keeping as much of the building as possible because the floor and the walls and the foundation are sound, he said.

“I’m looking at gutting it right to the studs,” he said.

The renovations would allow builders to increase energy conservation and heat efficiency, he said.

“I could see saving this building – even if it is $20,000 more than building a new one,” Edes said.

If the time is not right for funding a construction project, the selectmen still will have to deal with the leaky roof, according to Morton.

“We will have to make improvements to the roof structure and make the building watertight — sooner than later,” Morton said.

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