Cape Elizabeth voters will decide in November whether to keep their old schools or get new ones and face higher property taxes.
Town councilors voted 4-3 on Monday to put the question on the ballot, but the town is still split. With a price tag of $116 million, taxes are expected to rise by thousands for most people in Cape Elizabeth.
With everyday challenges and rising costs inside the schools, school officials said the time to bite the bullet is now.
“This is a privileged community,” Town Councilor Tim Reiniger said. “We’re all fortunate to be here but this is an unaffordable project.”
Reiniger said 33 percent of people living in Cape Elizabeth are “cost-burdened” and can’t afford higher tax rates.
He added property taxes could rise as much as 25 percent.
“The inflation we’re going through right now is extraordinary, 9 percent and climbing,” Reiniger said. “And I think it’s a very bad time to be launching into any large building project.”
“Looking at all the options ahead of us, it is the most cost-effective for the long term,” Town Councilor Nicole Boucher said.
The district’s budget for heating oil rose by $200,000 last year because of the older and inefficient design of the buildings, according to Superintendent Chris Record.
“We have a heat pump system that will actually cut our heating costs in half, we believe,” Record said. “Which will reduce our annual budget.”
The original school building dates back to 1933.
School officials said classrooms are a tight fit. They set up four large storage containers because there is no more space to store things inside the school.
“We have students who are learning in closets and hallways, and it’s just not conducive to a great learning environment,” Boucher said.
One supply closet was turned into a space for teachers to teach special education.
“These buildings need to be replaced,” Boucher said. “If we don’t do it now, it’s only getting more expensive every single year.”
Reiniger, who said he has been in the schools, thinks the buildings have some life left in them.
“Try to sustain these older buildings and get as much life out of them that we can,” Reiniger said.
If the plan passes in November, the town can expect new school buildings to open up by fall 2025.