Portland OKs $3.6 million plan to buy, renovate downtown building as school facility

This 353 Cumberland Ave. building in Portland is owned by Goodwill Industries of Northern New England. Portland Public Schools officials hope to allocate $3.6 million to buy and renovate it.
This 353 Cumberland Ave. building in Portland is owned by Goodwill Industries of Northern New England. Portland Public Schools officials hope to allocate $3.6 million to buy and renovate it. Buy Photo
Posted Dec. 16, 2013, at 9:44 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland City Council on Monday night approved a series of motions that will raise and spend $3.6 million to buy and renovate a former Goodwill Industries building in the downtown to serve as a new school facility.

In an upcoming move, Portland Public Schools will relocate its central office, West Program for students with emotional disabilities and mental health diagnoses, and the Multilingual and Multicultural Center to the 353 Cumberland Ave. site.

In announcing the proposal two months ago, Portland Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said the building is convenient in the downtown for participants in those programs and offers proximity to resources such as the Portland Public Library, the Portland Boys and Girls Club and Portland City Hall.

“It’s more than just a purchase of property. It’s really about ensuring our learners — our most fragile learners and our adult learners — have access to a 21st century learning environment and some stability,” Caulk said Monday.

The central office is now located in the Portland Arts and Technology High School on Allen Avenue, while the Multilingual and Multicultural Center is housed at Lyman Moore Middle School.

The West Program is located in the former Sampson D. Plummer School in Falmouth on a temporary lease. It had previously been housed in — and got its name from — the 50-year-old West School on Douglass Circle, a facility that closed in the spring after years of falling into disrepair.

The Adult Education program, which was also at the West School, will continue to remain at the former Cathedral School, leased from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

Peter Eglinton, chief operations officer for Portland Public Schools, said school officials have been searching for a new facility like the one they’re now planning to buy for a long time.

“We’ve been looking at properties for all of those standalone programs for five or more years,” he told the council Monday night.

The three-story building is owned by Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, is three stories and 50,000 square feet. The property has 50 parking spaces and the district is prepared to rent another 55 spaces nearby, according to the school district.

“I’ve had a chance to go through this program, and I think it meets the needs of these programs very well,” said Nicholas Mavodones, city councilor and chairman of the council’s finance committee, Monday night. “I think it will be a good fit in the neighborhood.”

The Midtown Community Policing Center currently occupying part of the building would be welcome to stay, the school district said in its October announcement.

The purchase price of the building would be $2.7 million, and the district expects to incur an additional $850,000-$900,000 in legal, administrative and renovation costs.

School administrators argued the deal also will free up space at PATHS for the expansion of the expeditionary Casco Bay High School, which is also housed in that Allen Avenue facility.

Funding for the purchase and renovation is proposed to come from bonds, leftover proceeds from previous property sales and the current year’s capital improvement budget.

The council voted 8-1, with Councilor Kevin Donoghue dissenting, on each of four motions seeking to authorize and allocate more than $3.1 million in bond money, as well as an additional $445,000 from the fund balance for the project. The council voted 9-0 on each of three additional motions shifting unspent money from previous city projects into the capital improvements account.

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