Facilities report notes need to quickly address Portland elementary school inequities

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PORTLAND — A draft report on programming and maintenance needs of the city’s school buildings recommends hiring a consultant to review delivery options for the district’s stand-alone services and addressing educational inequity in two elementary schools within the next year.

The report, released Tuesday morning, is the result of a nearly year-long study by the Facilities Task Force, which was formed in June 2008.

The task force will hold two public hearings on the 143-page report. The first will be held on Monday, April 27, at 7 p.m. in the Deering High School library. The other public hearing will be held on May 11 in the Portland High School library, where the task force will vote to send the report to the School Committee.

The draft report, compiled by the not-for-profit, Massachusetts-based New England School Development Council, outlines projected enrollment over the next 10 years. It also examines building capacities and requirements for education and stand-alone services, specifically Adult Education, Day Treatment for special education students and the Central Kitchen. 

In addition to calling for short- and long-term maintenance plans, the report also recommends the schools begin planning for a preschool program, which some believe will soon be mandated by the state. 

The report also presents options for addressing programming and facility needs. However, FTF Chairman Jaimey Caron said the task force will not specifically endorse any of those options because those discussions and decisions would be better suited for the full School Committee.

Caron asked his fellow School Committee members in a memo to consider using an unspecified sum of money in next year’s budget to hire a professional consultant to evaluate options for the district’s stand-alone programs, which he said were not meeting operational and economical needs.

Caron said that, if programming and maintenance needs are implemented at West School, which is built on an old landfill near Interstate 295 and houses the Day Treatment program, then the district could possibly generate more revenue by attracting out-of-district clients.

The report said that relocating Adult Education would be key to solving lack of programming space available for an expanded Day Treatment facility. It also said there is “no appropriate stand-alone site” in Portland to relocate the treatment program.

“As with the Adult Education program, a long-term solution for housing (Day Treatment) is a priority given the needs of the community and the opportunity to generate offsetting revenues to address the program’s space needs,” Caron said.  

Meanwhile, the report suggests that moving Casco Bay High School, currently housed at 196 Allen Ave. with the Portland Arts and Technology High School and Central Office, to Portland High School would allow the Adult Education program to be housed in a single location.

Currently, Adult Ed is split between West School and the former Baxter Elementary School, which is scheduled for demolition. Baxter’s program will be temporarily relocated to Riverton Elementary School until a permanent location is found.

Caron said that when Ocean Avenue Elementary School opens in 2011, the School Department will have three elementary schools that meet current best practices for educational planning, joining Riverton and East End Community School.

“While this is a positive step forward for our elementary schools, the reality is that five schools do not meet current education requirements,” Caron said. “Addressing the lack of equity in the elementary buildings should be priority for the district.” 

Caron asked the committee to first consider the needs of Lyseth and Presumpscot elementary schools within the next six to 12 months. Each school has six classrooms housed in three portable buildings.

Meanwhile, Caron said the enrollment projections – reached by analyzing birth rates, impending residential development and projected immigration – coupled with the opening of the new school would provide “an opportunity to explore redistricting.”

“While never an easy undertaking, redistricting is an important tool in managing space needs of the district and is over due,” he said.

The task force also recommends creating steering committees made up of School Committee members and residents to explore improvements to other facilities. It also asks that city and school leaders work more collaboratively to oversee maintenance and capital improvements. 

Caron said there are $45 million in school projects waiting to be funded through the city’s annual Capital Improvement Program. Meanwhile, industry best practices for building maintenance suggest the city should annually budget $5 million, which is 2 percent of the district’s replacement costs.

“The task force recognizes that missing from the process of long-range facility planning is an ongoing oversight structure within city government to manage the district’s physical assets,” Caron said. 

The report doesn’t recommend reusing Clifford Elementary School, which will be closed when the Ocean Avenue Elementary School opens in 2011. It recommends selling the building to fund future school building projects.

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