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South Portland High School renovation estimated to cost nearly $44M; further reductions sought

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South Portland High School renovation estimated to cost nearly $44M; further reductions sought

SOUTH PORTLAND — A complete renovation of the high school to address health, safety and programming needs is now estimated to cost $43.9 million, but is expected to shrink.

The preliminary cost estimate is about $12 million less than a $56 million renovation plan that was defeated by voters in 2007.

School officials are pushing for a June bond referendum to pay for the revised project.

Assistant Superintendent Steve Bailey said the scope and cost of the proposed renovations are likely to be reduced in meetings next month.

"Before this goes to voters, we expect it will undergo much more scrutiny and be reduced further," Bailey said.

The overall cost of the high school renovation was trimmed by eliminating proposals for an artificial turf football field and a second gymnasium. The revised plan is also 29,000 square feet smaller than the original proposal.

Secondary Schools Facility Committee member Councilor Maxine Beecher said she issued a challenge to her committee colleagues, who include another city councilor, a School Board member, school workers, parents and other community members.

That challenge, Beecher said, was to bring the total cost of borrowing below $40 million. 

"If they could come up with a couple million dollars out of their surplus, then I would lobby the council to come up with a couple million," Beecher said.

Beecher complimented the committee and architects for reducing the costs by $12 million, but said the community would be more likely to support a sub-$40 million project. 

"These are difficult times," Beecher said. "We have to think about how much we can add to people's real estate bills."

School Board member Ralph Baxter Jr., who serves on the SSFC, said he hopes the city and the schools will be able to meet Beecher's challenge by working together.

"We are already looking at it," Baxter said. "I know the School Department doesn't have enough (money) to do it on its own."

Baxter said the current estimate is still too high and thinks some elements of the plan can be trimmed.

"I was hoping (the cost) would be lower and I think there will be other reductions," he said. "Hopefully we will get to a place where people will support it."

SSFC member Ralph Cabana said he believes the revised plan addresses the concerns the community had about the 2007 plan. Cabana said there are few features left to cut that will not affect learning.

"I truly believe that we can't cut more without adversely affecting our kids' education," he said. "I think that the voters, knowing even more than ever the dangers and deficiencies at the high school, will support this plan."

While reduced in cost and scope, the project contains several "green" and energy-efficient features, including maximizing daylight and installing occupancy room sensors, low-flow plumbing fixtures, electronic faucets, radiant slabs, and new windows and roofs.

Beecher said she is encouraged that the plan would qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification and that the cost estimate includes funding to receive that certification.

"I was really pleased with that piece," Beecher said.

Seeking LEED certification has been brought up at several meetings, especially since the city is considering an ordinance requiring certification for all city building projects.

The high school is on warning status for its accreditation because of facility-related issues. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net