May 22, 2018
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Portland school officials to ask for as much as $46M for districtwide elementary school overhaul

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Portland voters a year from now may see on their ballots a $46 million local bond item to fund the replacement of one school and renovations at four others.

Portland Public Schools officials announced Tuesday the hiring of the Biddeford-based architecture and engineering firm Oak Point Associates to develop site plans, construction schedules and costs for an ambitious bundle of projects aimed at reinventing half of the city’s 10 elementary schools.

The overhaul plan would include the outright replacement of the 56-year-old Fred P. Hall Elementary School, which was considered to be in poor condition even before a September fire that closed the facility for three weeks, and renovations or expansions of Lyseth, Reiche, Longfellow and Presumpscot elementary schools.

The new, or largely new, school buildings would join a stable of schools that already includes two that were constructed within the last six years — the East End Community School and Ocean Avenue Elementary School — with state funding through its new school construction program.

The $46 million price tag represents an early estimate based on the work of an Elementary School Capital Needs Task Force assembled by the city board of education in 2010.

The city council included $3 million in the current year’s capital improvement budget for school projects, including $700,000 for the planning effort launched in earnest Tuesday.

Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk told reporters Tuesday during a news conference assembled at Hall School that the slate of proposed projects is necessary to provide equity across the city’s schools — evening out a playing field in which some students in some neighborhoods currently learn in adequate spaces with the latest technology infrastructure, while others use closets and hallways for teacher conferences because their buildings are overcrowded.

By the time voters go to the polls for Election Day 2013, Caulk said the district hopes to have gotten council approval for a bond item that will provide the system with perhaps its biggest one-time facelift ever.

As part of Oak Point’s evaluation process — plans for each site are scheduled to be finalized by mid-April — the firm will look at potential redistricting within the city, shifting the borders of which neighborhoods send children to which schools in order to even out the respective school populations.

“Many of these schools have more students than can be comfortably accommodated, educationally speaking,” said Peter Eglinton, chief operations officer for the system, Tuesday.

“The board has been very focused on taking an objective view of our facilities and creating equity throughout the district,” said Kate Snyder, chairwoman of the Portland board of education.

Former mayor and current at-large city councilor Nicholas Mavodones said his fellow councilors on the city’s finance committee, as well as Mayor Michael Brennan, support the system’s ambitious plan and “aggressive timetable.”

Eglinton said system officials hope to begin — if not also complete — the slate of projects within a three-year period after Election Day 2013, if the bond passes.

He also said city and school officials are on the same page about incremental upgrades to school buildings in the future, so a sweeping capital investment is not necessary in the decades ahead.

“There’s a recognition that you can’t wait for problems to arise, fix them, and then wait for more problems to arise,” he said, “that there are steady investments necessary over time.”

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