Portland committee to hold hearing on proposed school bond

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

PORTLAND — The public is invited to speak again on a proposed bond to renovate and upgrade Lyseth, Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools.

The City Hall hearing, to be held by the City Council Finance Committee at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, will be followed by a recommendation by the committee on the bond to the full council.

The proposed bond is $61 million, but, as Mayor Ethan Strimling noted at the Feb. 16 Finance Committee meeting, it could be increased to $64 million.

“By amending the bond this way, we paint a clearer picture of the full cost of the renovations and assure that the work on the schools can be done in a time frame that doesn’t have to wait for the (capital improvements plan) to be funded in the future,” Strimling said.

The $3.3 million increase would largely pay for a new elevator and masonry work at Longfellow Elementary School on Stevens Avenue, in addition to parking lot and site improvements at Lyseth Elementary School.

The improvements are planned for future CIP projects.

After Strimling reviewed the ad hoc committee process that reduced the original bond proposal from $71 million to the $61 million forwarded to the School Board and City Council, much of the conversation centered around which – if any –schools might get state construction funding, and how soon the funding could available.

School Superintendent Xavier Botana said the department will apply for funding from the state Department of Education for work on all but Presumpscot, as well as Casco Bay High School and the Portland Arts & Technology High School.

The state DOE is expected to release a new funding priority list in April 2018, and at least two city schools could edge closer to the top because projects ahead of them are already completed or funding has been committed.

The wrinkle is the city referendum vote that could come in June.

“The minute it is approved by the voters, we will not be considered (by the state),” Botana said.

The updated list and possible state funding has led Councilor Nick Mavodones, chairman of the Finance Committee, to advocate for a $35 million bond for two schools this year in order to see what the DOE may decide.

“To forgo the chance of getting one school funded when we are looking at an aggressive schedule gives me pause,” Mavodones said.

Councilor David Brenerman, who supports the $61 million bond, was less assured.

“In 15 years, none of them have been funded. Even though Longfellow and Reiche were next, that does not mean they will be next,” he said.

If city schools are given a higher priority by the state, they must still be shifted to an approved list, which takes time, noted Tyler Barter, senior architect with Oak Point Associates. 

The firm developed the renovation plan that is the basis for the bond.

“Corinth was number one, it took them eight years to get through the process,” Barter said of building the Central Community Elementary School.

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

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.