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Portland Adult Ed to lease old school, continue search for permanent home

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Portland Adult Ed to lease old school, continue search for permanent home

PORTLAND — The School Department has signed a $180,000-per-year lease with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to use the former Cavanaugh School for the Portland Adult Education Program and the West day treatment programs.

But the lease will only be a temporary solution for an ongoing problem.

The School Board approved the June 25. It was signed by both parties on June 26, although it was not made publicly available until Friday.

The lease of the Cavanaugh School, 14 Locust St., will partially house the Adult Education program in three classrooms, which will also use space at Portland High School. 

"The Cavanaugh space provides space with flexibility for temporary accommodations that are geared toward classroom space, and also provides parking," said Peter Eglinton, chief operations officer for the School Department.

The lease required $100,000 up front and an agreement to pay a total of $80,000 in 11 monthly payments starting Aug. 1 and ending June 1, 2014. The lease is for three years. The board will conduct an evaluation after the second year to ensure the budget can support another year.

The School Department had access to the building as of Monday.

The department will be responsible for maintenance and cleaning, and must pay for additional infrastructure like Internet and phone lines, according to the lease.

The academic side of the Adult Education program teaches more than 1,100 students – about 80 percent are immigrants and refugees – seeking to finish their high school diplomas or sharpen skills for work. It also provides social services to nearly 1,400 other clients.

Both locations are temporary fixes for the popular program that has been in need of a permanent and appropriate space for several years.

The two spaces will only allow for 900 students. Some others attend classes at Riverton Elementary, which leaves about 100 students in the lurch, Director Rob Wood said.

Sixty-seven classes are planned this fall, but that's only if extra space can be found, he said.

"It's going to present a lot of challenges for administration, student services, parking," Wood said. "It'll make it more discouraging for people who want to come. We'll have to say no. We're so used to saying yes in education, but we'll have to say no."

Eglinton said he is confident there will be a short-term solution for next school year and noted the department will be presenting a plan to the City Council in the coming weeks to develop a plan for a permanent location. 

He said the plan will likely be built into the fiscal 2015 capital budget and will try to bring the majority of the program under one roof.

The program has been housed in the old West Elementary School building, 57 Douglass Circle, for the last 27 years, but was forced to search for a new home in June, after a variety of system failures.

The 50-year-old West School roof has had a series of leaks for several years and began leaking extensively in March, requiring staff to scatter buckets around the hallways and classrooms to catch water seeping through the ceiling tiles. The furnace also broke in February, forcing the program to rent a mobile furnace for $8,000 a month to provide heat through the rest of the winter, Wood said.

The department has deferred building maintenance for years in favor of projects at other city schools, he said.

"I didn't know whether we'd be able to finish classes this year," Wood said on Friday, the last school day, adding that leaking water had brought down another ceiling tile in the office that day. "But, we made it."

Space for the Adult Education program was not built into the School Board's $71.7 million school renovation plan, which will renovate or replace five elementary schools. The project is counting on a $39.9 million bond proposal and about $31 million in state aid.

Adult Education is not covered under the state's Major Capital School Construction Program.

But Eglinton said the expansion and redesign of the schools could provide options for programming space.

Wood said the Cavanaugh School is in good condition and will be appropriate for the time being.

The pre-school through eighth-grade Cavanaugh School closed in 2011 after the diocese ran out of money to keep it open, Communications Director Dave Guthro said in an email. Since then, it has not had a regular tenant.

Despite the challenges facing the program, Wood remains positive about finding the right space before Fall classes begin.

"We've got a lot of time," he said. "I'm used to working under pressure."

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff