April vote likely on Portland's nearly $30M plan for Hall School

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PORTLAND — The cost to taxpayers remains a source of contention, but a plan to rebuild Fred P. Hall Elementary School is moving closer to a referendum.

City councilors on Monday received details about the $29.7 million plan to replace the school, ahead of a Feb. 1 public hearing where the council will vote on setting an April 5 referendum date.

The project would ultimately cost city taxpayers $1.4 million.

“You sometimes have to bite the bullet and say these are things we can do and should do,” Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. said in defending the local-cost add-ons that include a larger cafeteria and gymnasium, enhanced security measures and stormwater drainage improvements. All are all beyond what the state Department of Education is willing to pay.

Built in 1957, the school serving kindergarten through fifth-grade at 23 Orono Road was damaged in a 2012 fire. Last April, the new school construction plan was placed on the state’s Major Capital Construction Approved Projects List.

On Wednesday, the state Board of Education is expected to approve the concept plan for the school, which will be built on the same 21-acre site where all students except kindergartners will continue to attend classes.

If the referendum passes and all other plans go accordingly, the new school would open in fall 2018. All but $1.4 million of the construction and design costs would be covered by the state Department of Education.

The new school would be almost 85,000 square feet, designed to hold 558 students, and allow the School Department to shift as many as 120 students from Ocean Avenue Elementary School and add two pre-kindergarten classes, according to Tyler Barter of project architects Oak Point Associates.

In December, School Board members voted 8-1 to forward the plan to the City Council. Former Chairwoman Sarah Thompson opposed the plan because of the local cost, and the potential effects on spending for other city school projects.

During Monday’s hour-long workshop, the local costs were defended by Mavodones and Councilor Ed Suslovic, who is the chairman of the project building committee.

Suslovic said adding 2,300 square feet to the gymnasium was supported by the city Parks and Recreation Department, parents and school staff, who want to see more space available for community use.

“It was a very strong vote from the building committee and the School Board,” Suslovic said about the gym.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Jeanne Crocker said adding 1,400 square feet of cafeteria space will reduce daily lunch periods from three to two. The lunch periods would be longer and allow students more time to eat and socialize, while reducing the staff needed for supervision.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, left, and City Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. listen during Monday’s council workshop on a $29.7 million plan to rebuild Hall School. Pending a Feb. 1 vote by the council, the project will go to an April 5 voter referendum.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.