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School repairs to begin in July after South Portland voters OK bond, budget

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School repairs to begin in July after South Portland voters OK bond, budget

SOUTH PORTLAND — A day after 57 percent of voters supported a $5.8 million bond for repairs to the high school and two middle schools, school officials were wasting no time soliciting bids for about half of the improvements.

Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin said Wednesday the district will immediately begin accepting bids for projects planned for this summer. Those projects include upgrading fire alarms and electrical systems at all three schools and bringing stairwells up to code.

"We have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes in anticipation of this," Godin said. "This (bond) is only a starting point."

Meanwhile, the $39.5 school budget for fiscal 2010 was approved by almost a 2-1 margin, 1,472 to 752. That level of support is a far cry from last year's budget referendum, which passed by only 36 votes.

Godin attributed the increased school support, both for the bond and the budget, to additional steps taken by the School Department to educate the public. Some parent groups sent out letters asking for budget support, and school officials circulated a 20-minute informational video about the bond on community television.

The video, coupled with a letter from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges placing the high school's accreditation on warning status for its deteriorating facility, seemed to compel voters.

"That coupled with a very responsible budget showed the community we're doing everything we can to provide the education South Portland wants, while maintaining some failing facilities," Godin said.

The $39.5 million budget for fiscal 2010 is nearly $500,000 lower than the current budget and will not increase the local tax rate. Sixteen jobs have been eliminated, but there will be no layoffs, since the employees were hired under one-year contracts.

Godin said the city will open bids for the school upgrades on June 24 and hold a special meeting to authorize school officials to negotiate a construction contract. Construction is expected to begin on July 1 and be finished by Sept. 1.

A roughly $2.4 million investment into the high school facility is expected, while the balance will be spent on Mahoney and Memorial middle schools. Other improvements, including security upgrades at the school and a new bus loop at Memorial Middle School, will not happen until the summer of 2010.  

Despite the planned high school improvements, school officials believe they must ultimately pursue a full-scale renovation of the high school if it is to comply with the recommendations of the regional accreditation committee. They have said issues like asbestos removal and repairing a fissure between the annex and the original school building cannot be addressed short of a full renovation. 

Officials have also said improvements to be funded through this year's bond will not go to waste, since they can be incorporated into a full renovation.

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