Hall School bond vote set for April 5 in Portland

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PORTLAND — A $29.7 million bond to replace Fred P. Hall School will go before city voters on April 5.

The referendum election date and bond amount were unanimously approved Feb. 17 by the City Council. All but $1.39 million of the estimated construction cost will be reimbursed by the state Department of Education.

Councilor Ed Suslovic, who led the building committee that worked out the elements of the nearly 85,000-square-foot school, said the time has come to replace it, and the April vote is essential.

“Every day, literally, is critical,” he said of the need to have two full construction seasons to build the school.

The additional city spending is due mostly to the addition of 2,300 square feet of gymnasium space and 1,400 square feet of cafeteria space above what the state typically pays for.

In a Jan. 11 workshop, interim Superintendent of Schools Jeanne Crocker said the increased cafeteria size, at a cost of $346,000, will allow a reduction in the number of lunch periods from three to two, giving students more time to eat and requiring fewer staff on hand for lunch periods.

The gym, at an added cost of $538,000, would be of a size more typical of middle schools, and is needed because the neighborhood off Brighton Avenue lacks a community gathering spot.

Speaking in support of the bond, state Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, said the added space would be used “for a variety of purposes that are desperately needed in the city.”

Additional city spending includes $53,000 for security upgrades and almost $50,000 for “outdoor learning spaces” on the 21-acre campus.

The public hearing preceding the council votes lasted six minutes. Hall School Principal Dawn Kenniston said the new school is needed, but acknowledged other elementary schools require attention.

“Our elementary facilities are horrible,” she said. “I have to say how honored I am our friends in other elementary schools have stood behind our initiative to make Hall School the best it can possibly be. I hope this is the beginning tonight of people talking about how we can help city schools be stronger and better.”

The new school would be constructed as students continue to attend classes in the  existing school, built in 1957. Hall School was also damaged by a fire in 2013, and Suslovic recalled replacement was recommended by a committee he and Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. served on a decade ago.

The new Hall School would be constructed with space for 558 students, which would also allow for the eventual shift of some students now attending Ocean Avenue Elementary School, according to a memo from design consultants Oak Point Associates.

Last April, the new school construction plan was placed on the state’s Major Capital Construction Approved Projects List, although the estimated cost has increased from about $20 million.

The referendum election will be held at all city polling places because the city missed a deadline to seek consolidation of polling places for the election.

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

A referendum for a $29.7 million bond to replace Fred P. Hall School is set for April 5. City taxpayers would directly pay $1.39 million.

A conceptual sketch for the new Fred P. Hall School depicts the 85,000-square-foot school that would also have new access and student drop-off areas.

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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.