PORTLAND, Maine — Portland city and school officials should not hold out hope for state aid to replace the aging Fred P. Hall School, state Sen. Justin Alfond said Monday.
But there still may be hope to secure funding for more repairs at Longfellow and Presumpscot elementary schools, the Portland Democrat said.
Alfond, speaking before a joint workshop of the City Council and school board, said there’s almost no hope of the Hall School rebuild project receiving funding in the near future through the state’s signature Major Capital Improvement Program. The city’s application to rebuild the facility, described Monday by Mayor Michael Brennan as the Portland school in “the most desperate” condition, finished No. 12 on the list of funding priorities in the program’s most recent cycle.
The senator said the state’s approved debt limit for the program is $116 million, a figure projected to cover the top six projects on the list. Among the schools listed in most need of renovations or replacements are two in Sanford, the Sanford High School and Regional Technical Center at No. 2 and the Emerson School at No. 4.
Alfond said that even if individual project costs come in lower than expected, and more rebuilds fit under that $116 million cap, the most projects likely to be funded is 10.
However, he said there is some cause for optimism that the Portland Public Schools might get help to upgrade their facilities. Alfond said many school officials, including Portland Superintendent James Morse, are lobbying the Department of Education to hold the current priority list over to the next round of funding as well, which would place the Hall School in prime position to receive funds when they next become available.
Under the current program cycles, school districts are forced to reapply after each round of funding, with no guarantee that their application wouldn’t be leapfrogged by other deteriorating schools in the state the next time around. Alfond said there’s no timetable for when another round of funding might be approved — the 2011 list was the first to be issued in four years, he said.
But he also said the state’s revolving renovation fund, which provides up to $1 million per application for smaller scale projects, likely will begin accepting applications within the next six weeks. Morse said during the Monday night workshop that with a $1 million no-interest loan from the state, he might be able to use that money as leverage to secure bonds, grants or other revenue sources adding up to $3 million in total.
Under that scenario, the superintendent said, he likely would focus the money on smaller-scale projects at Longfellow and Presumpscot elementary schools, which finished at No. 18 and 33, respectively, on the larger Major Capital Improvement Program priority list.
Portland’s Harrison Lyseth Elementary School was also on the 71-project list, at No. 43.
With their pursuit of renovation funding, Portland school officials hope to build on momentum garnered with last summer’s ambitious slate of upgrades. Using about $2 million in bond money secured by the city for energy improvements, the district scheduled summertime repairs at Lyseth, Presumpscot and Peaks Island elementary schools, as well as Portland and Deering high schools.
In a seven-year capital improvement plan reviewed by the school board last fall, Morse proposed a replacement of the Hall School as part of $46.2 million in major projects to be undertaken in the coming years.