Panel eyes trimming proposed school bond by nearly $11M

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PORTLAND — The ad hoc committee working on a nearly $71 million bond to repair four aging elementary schools may try to reduce the cost.

At City Hall meeting Nov. 17, the committee considered an alternative plan to make significant upgrades at Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche schools that is smaller in scope than past versions.

The plan, which is not official, would require a bond of about $60.2 million, with some projects at each school either cut back or eliminated.

Mayor Ethan Strimling, who co-chairs the committee with School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione, said he and Morrione were only looking for feedback from committee members on the numbers, and to see if “these are things people can stomach.”

Most of the proposed adjustments, totaling about $10.8 million, involve either scaled-back plans – such as deciding not to build a second floor at two of the schools – or adjusting the capital improvement plan.

Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said administrators met with principals to identify areas where costs can be reduced. He said some savings were found by purchasing equipment that can easily be moved from school to school, purchasing items through mass procurement, and by keeping some existing furniture and equipment.

Tyler Barter, a senior architect at Oak Point Associates, the firm that drafted the scope of work in a plan called “Buildings for Our Future,” said most of the reductions involve the scope of projects. He mentioned deleting plans for second floors at Lyseth and Presumpscot and trying to use as much existing infrastructure as possible.

At Longfellow, the proposed potential adjustments include reducing the size of the gym, removing new locker rooms from the plans, not making outdoor learning improvements, and moving masonry work and an elevator project to the capital improvements plan. The reductions would total just under $2.7 million, bringing the adjusted total project cost to nearly $13.8 million.

At Lyseth, potential adjustments also include reducing the size of the gym, not building new locker rooms and removing outdoor learning improvements. Some field work and parking improvements would be shifted to the CIP. The reductions total just over $4 million, bringing the project cost to about $16.3 million.

At Presumpscot, the adjustments include reducing space for administration, reducing the size of the gym, removing outdoor learning improvements and doing away with the second-floor addition. The adjustments total about $2.6 million, bringing the project to just over $13.6 million.

And at Reiche, proposed adjustments include deleting playground improvements, removing outdoor learning improvements and deleting a solar domestic hot water project. The adjustments total just under $1.5 million, bringing the project cost to just over $16.5 million.

Barter said Presumpscot and Lyseth are still designed in such a way that second floors could be added in the future. The plans still eliminate modular classrooms at Presumpscot and Lyseth.

While the reductions are “not ideal,” Botana said it was an effort to find a cost that taxpayers could support. Longfellow Principal Terry Young told the committee no one wanted to see cuts, but the proposed adjustments are “something we can work with.”

Strimling said the $10.8 million reduction would likely reduce the tax impact by 10 or 11 cents. The original $70.6 million bond proposal would add 70 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to the property tax rate, which is now $21.11.

The last proposed bond was roughly $70.6 million, but increased to just under $71 million due to increased fees and services.

Some committee members supported the proposed reductions.

City Councilor Nick Mavadones, chairman of the council’s finance committee, said he appreciated the work that went into the new proposal.  While everyone likes the original proposal, he said councilors and educators “have to be good stewards of our public dollars.”

“I’m comfortable that these changes don’t really hurt the programming,” Mavodones said, adding that the numbers are still “way up there” and there is still work to do.

“This group will have to have a serious conversation of what the taxpayers can afford,” he said.

Councilor Justin Costa said he “could live with” the changes, and is open-minded about what was presented.

School Board member Anna Trevorrow said she thought the proposals “are cuts that probably don’t hurt the classroom,” and would be a good place to continue the discussion.

The committee doesn’t have another meeting scheduled, and Strimling said members won’t meet again before new councilors and School Board members are sworn in Dec. 5. No members of the committee will be changing.

Strimling also said he hopes the committee could meet again before the end of the year, with the goal of getting the bond to a referendum by March in order to take advantage of construction season.

Once the committee has reached a conclusion, members will send their recommendations back to the School Board. If the board has no changes, the proposal will return to the city’s finance committee before ultimately returning to the council.

“We’ve got our work cut out,” Strimling said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.