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Delay continues on new home for Portland Adult Education

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Delay continues on new home for Portland Adult Education

PORTLAND — Portland Adult Education is still without a facility with only a few weeks left before the start of the school year, although the School Department is expected to have a lease signed for a short-term home within the next week.

The School Board was expected to vote on a facility lease for the program on Tuesday evening. But officials were unable to meet with property managers before the meeting to work out the final details, School Department Chief Operations Officer Peter Eglinton said.

Instead, the board voted to authorize the superintendent of schools to sign a lease agreement after the board's attorney has reviewed it.

Eglinton said officials hope to meet with the property representatives "very soon," but did not say when or if they had a meeting scheduled.

"We won't be delaying this any longer than we need to," he said.

This latest delay comes after a vote was postponed at last week's board meeting. Adult Education staff and students have been waiting for months to hear where they will be housed when classes begin.

Adult Ed, which serves about 2,000 students annually seeking to finish high school and obtain job skills, was forced out of its home at West School in June after the building deteriorated to the point where it was no longer safe. It also shared the building with the West day treatment program.

Initially, even the West School was supposed to be temporary, but the program stayed there for 27 years after being bounced out of another former school.

The district has been working to find an emergency short-term solution since then, proposing to conduct classes at Portland High School and the former Kavanagh School, owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

But those two buildings don't offer the 22,000 square feet and 15 classrooms needed to properly run the program, Adult Ed Director Rob Wood said at Tuesday's board meeting. 

Wood has not been involved in the discussions about where to house the program, he said. Instead, he said, he, along with the program staff, have been left mostly in the dark about where they will teach classes.

"Without a specific place to go to, the thousands of Adult Education students are going to be wondering where they will go," he said. "We have alternative plans, but it would be useful to be conclusive."

The expected lease is supposed to be a short-term solution while the district works on a more permanent home for the program. Ideally, it would be housed in a single location, Wood said.

Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said the long-term solution for the program is still unclear, but that it is something the district is actively working on.

"We're committed to finding the best solution," he said. "(Adult Education) is a core program and is vital to our community, as shown by the outpouring of support and how it's been embraced."

Caulk said although the situation now is not ideal, the shared location of Adult Education and West day programs lacked any educational benefits and had to be reorganized anyway.

"The West building outlived its useful life and presented us with some challenges," he said. "But it's really an opportunity to provide facilities that will meet the programmatic needs for Adult Ed and the West program."

Board member Laurie Davis said the conversation about school facilities underscores the importance of adequate investment in capital infrastructure, something that has been missing in the past.

"While teaching can happen under a tree, it's better, especially in Maine, if they have buildings," she said. "In the process of education, teaching is often more picturesque. But the reality is we've got to maintain our buildings, and our buildings are getting old."

Although the Adult Education program was forced into an emergency situation in June, the program' advocacy group, Friends of Portland Adult Education, as well as other community groups, have been asking the district to find an appropriate facility for many years.

But in all likelihood, they'll continue to wait for a permanent location, considering major bonds scheduled to be on the ballot next year for the city's elementary schools. 

And that's how it usually plays out, Wood said: "Education is often a lesson of patience."

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