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South Portland council takes 1st step toward $44.2M high school renovation bond

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South Portland council takes 1st step toward $44.2M high school renovation bond

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council approved the first reading of a $44.2 million bond referendum for high school renovations on Monday, Aug. 23.

The 4-2 vote sets up the borrowing measure for decisive vote on Sept. 8. 

Councilors Jim Hughes and Rosemarie De Angelis opposed the proposal, and Councilor Maxine Beecher was absent.

Even though the School Board unanimously supports the $47 million proposed renovation, some city councilors expressed concerns that a $44.2 referendum will be rejected by voters in November.

In 2007, a $56 million bond was defeated at the polls. The project has been scaled back, and assuming an affirmative second vote by the council, will go to the polls in November once more. 

Councilor Jim Hughes said he was opposed to the size of the plan. The proposed renovation would result in a 286,000-square-foot building for 1,100 students – a 95,000-square-foot increase over the current school.

"We will pay for every square foot three times," he said: once for the construction, another for loan interest and finally to heat the building.

De Angelis said she isn't sure the city needs a project so large to produce excellent programming for students. She also said she is concerned that the project will not have the support of the 76 percent of  city residents without children in the school system.

But Mayor Tom Coward and councilors Patti Smith, Tom Blake and Linda Boudreau said they back the proposal and the process and believe it is time to let the voters decide if they want to support the $44.2 million referendum.

"I think $44.2 million is the right number for this project," Boudreau said. "People need to be allowed to vote on it."

According to Finance Director Greg L'Heureux, the tax burden for owners of a $200,000 home would be a tax increase of $3,700 over 20 years. In 2015, the peak year, residents with a $200,000 home would pay about $234.

Of the nearly 45 residents who came to the meeting, only Albert DiMillo and Don Russell spoke against the plan. DiMillo said the job could be completed for $25 million, and Russell encouraged councilors to wait until the economy improves to send the referendum to the voters.

"The negative impact of a loss this November has not been discussed," he said. "I'd rather wait and have it pass later. Loss is very detrimental to the future of getting the plan we want."

The council will meet Wednesday, Sept 8, for the second reading and final vote on the proposal.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net