This summer, Bowdoin announced that it would donate $450,000 to build a “discovery classroom” at Kate Furbish Elementary School, which is set to open in 2020. A plan for the classroom was reviewed and approved in last week’s meeting of the Brunswick Planning Board.
The 1,000-square-foot classroom—featuring sinks, tables and storage space for hands-on learning in science, art and other subject areas—was initially proposed in plans for the school but was cut from the budget, which ultimately amounted to just under $20.3 million. Sarah Singer, a member of the Brunswick School Board and the new school’s building committee, approached Bowdoin President Clayton Rose to ask if the College would consider making a donation to construct the classroom, and Rose was supportive.
“The request from the Furbish school resonated with us. We do recognize our civic responsibility and the importance of being an engaged neighbor and member of the community,” said Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer of the College Matt Orlando. “The strength of the public school system in Brunswick is vitally important … to making Brunswick an attractive place for people to live and raise a family.”
The last time the College made a one-time donation to a town project was in 2010, when the College donated $400,000 to construct a storm drain on Maine Street, said Orlando.
The College also announced in May that it would increase its voluntary annual contribution to Brunswick by $150,000, to be given every year for five years, starting in FY 2018-2019.
Because Bowdoin is a non-profit organization and is exempt from paying tax on most of its property, the College chooses to give an annual contribution to Brunswick.
In total, Bowdoin’s property is valued at $174 million, approximately $4 million of which is still taxable. The College paid over $72,000 in taxes last year.
In the fall of 2017, several residents of Brunswick penned op-eds and letters to the editor to local newspapers calling on the College to increase its payments to the town. In FY 2017-2018, Bowdoin paid $206,497 in property taxes and $172,200 in its voluntary contribution.
In FY 2018-2019, Bowdoin’s payment in property tax decreased from the previous year because the College applied to exempt Brunswick Apartments from the tax rolls, which was previously not tax-exempt because a tenant unconnected to the College resided there and paid rent. The difference in tax revenue, said Orlando, was made up in the contribution last fiscal year, which totaled $311,800.
With the additional $150,000, the College’s payment to the town last fiscal year was over $534,000.
The additional funds are restricted to paying for capital expenditures that the town budget could not cover, including sidewalk and road repair and purchasing police cars.
Orlando denied that the increased annual contribution was in response to the op-eds and letters to the editor.
“We ignore that noise,” he said.
According to Orlando, neither the donation for the discovery classroom nor the increased annual contribution were related to the College’s plans for construction, which must be approved by the Town Planning Board.
Editor’s Note, 9/20/2019: The article has been updated to correct the terminology used to describe the College’s annual contributions to the town. A “gift in kind” is a non-cash gift or donation, while all contributions in this article represent cash gifts.