Thursday, October 9, 2014

Building a better Brunswick, no matter how much YOU have to pay for it

Here in Cape Brunswick, America’s richest little town, we’re fond of building up crosswalks, sidewalks, and other accoutrements of ‘place,’ at the same time we’re busy tearing down buildings and other embarrassments that no longer please us and our collective sense of ‘community pride.’

In our more than five years of operating this media outlet, we’ve had some recurring themes.  One is the habit some public officials have of serving copious amounts of Brunswick Sausage to residents who are willing consumers of such offerings.

Another is the absolutely abysmal record of town officials in virtually every aspect of managing capital assets, by which we mean municipal buildings, including, in particular, our government school buildings.

We are rank amateurs at buying, trading, planning, designing, estimating, building, and in particular, maintaining facilities, and any other aspect of this role you can think of.  It’s almost child’s play to come up with examples from recent memory that prove the point.  Our capacity to act as responsible stewards of public buildings is virtually non-existent. 

You can read some of our past work on this subject here:  

We hope you will, because it’s chocked-full of easily substantiated truisms about how things work around here….and just about everywhere else.  We’ll highlight just a few snippets among those chiseled in the stone that is our mind:

“What belongs to you, you tend to take care of; what belongs to no one or everyone tends to fall into disrepair.” (Thanks to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy)

There’s never enough money for ‘public servants’ to be good stewards of what we already own, by keeping existing physical assets in good repair.  But there’s always enough money to tear such assets down and build something new in their place.

  • Imagine if your private structure was crumbling and in danger of being condemned. You’d be seen as irresponsible, unprincipled, and someone who didn’t care about their neighbors.
  • If private property was managed the way public property is, ¾ of downtown Brunswick would have had to be torn down decades ago, especially those properties in the historic district overseen by the Village Review Board.  Half the houses in town would have to be torn down as well…those 40 years old or more.  Including yours, more than likely, if you happen to live in an ‘older’ home in town.
  • Corollary: there’s never enough public interest, let alone a mandate, that officials maintain existing facilities as a first priority, but always great public clamor to support ripping down and replacing existing facilities that were ALLOWED, consciously, to fall into disrepair.
  • In sum, government ‘staff’ is rewarded for letting things fall apart, instead of being penalized or held accountable.

As a result, we, and numerous other governing entities, are easy pickings for multitudes of ‘consultants’ and ‘professionals’ who make comfortable livings feeding off official incompetence.  Knowing all the while that those in charge are well versed in drumming up emotional support for spending whatever it takes in Other Peoples’ Money to paper over irresponsibility and incompetence.

And so it was that we were a bit surprised in reading a recent article in The Forecaster, in which a ‘gaffe’ appeared.  You know, an inadvertent instance of speaking truthfully, in this case by a professional who seems to be making a career of doing business with the Brunswick School Department.

The article is this one:

Here are the passages that caught our attention:

The cost of a smaller, one-story school that would house 440 students is estimated at $22.3 million, while a larger 660-student school would cost $26.3 million, according to Keck's projections.  His estimates did not include the cost of razing and removing the existing Jordan Acres school, nor did it include the cost of playgrounds.

New buildings would be constructed for the industry-standard 40-year lifespan, which could be prolonged through regular maintenance, Keck said.  He added  that school districts have a tendency to wear through their buildings until they need major renovations or replacement.

Emphasis is ours, and Keck is an architect with PDT, the firm that gave us the stunningly beautiful HBS Elementary School on McKeen. 


Our hearts throb with pride each time we pass it.

In that underlined paragraph, Keck nails the standard operating procedure for our School Department. They completely ignore good stewardship and maintenance of the facilities they are given.  Broken toilets anyone? 

                                      Save Jordan Acres Elementary School

Snow causing roofs to cave in?  Giving away much beloved neighborhood schools like Longfellow, which somehow was converted to a spectacular Bowdoin arts facility for a mere $6 million or so?

All as backdrop to wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth about the terrible problem of student capacity in our school system?  When not too long ago, we accommodated nearly a thousand more students?

While you’re at it, think about how much of the beloved landmark Bowdoin College campus would be standing if 40 year lifespans were the norm for buildings.


No doubt you remember the ‘old’ Brunswick High School, built in the 30’s, which had to be torn down because it was no longer useful.


Maybe you remember us reporting on the High School we graduated from some 55 years ago, built in the same era, which is in spectacular condition and still in full use.

What’s the difference?  Do we really need to explain it to you?  We shouldn’t have to, if you’re paying attention.  And if you’re not, you should be bearing the brunt of the bills for such rampant disregard for resources provided by the community. 


While we’re at it, we thought we’d leave you with an image or two of the latest steps in making Brunswick a better ‘place.’


And suggest a better idea for a work of public art in front of Maine Street Station. 


Instead of that horse-shoe sculpture commissioned by enlightened locals, how about a pile of rubble from the latest demolition effort, surrounded by yellow safety tape?

Seems to us that would perfectly capture the essence of Brunswick’s approach to civic life.

In closing, maybe you’re one of those local residents who doesn’t have their property taxes impounded, and you’re facing the deadline (15 October) to make your first payment on the taxes for this fiscal year.  We just made ours, and nothing focuses attention on the principles that guide local governance like having to cough up the jingle to pay for it.

As consolation, we’re reminded of this sentiment we read recently in discussion of another matter:

(It’s) part of our heritage as citizens even in semi-rural areas.  It is a broad vision worthy of a great people.


So keep doing those stretches and stay loose, friends.  Pay attention so you hear the approaching footsteps.  Brace, as we’ve told you before; brace yourselves.

Technorati Tags: ,,,

No comments:

Post a Comment