Portland council OKs School Department move

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PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday approved plans to spend roughly $3.6 million to move the School Department’s Central Office, West Day Treatment Program, and Multilingual and Multicultural Center to a downtown building.

The new school facilities will be at 353 Cumberland Ave., a three-story, 50,000-square-foot building that was formerly the home of Goodwill Industries.

With Councilor Kevin Donoghue dissenting, the council approved a $3.16 million bond to acquire, renovate and move into the space. Another $445,000 would come from a reserve account that was set up when the former Central Office property at Martin’s Point was sold.

The move will provide a permanent home for the West Program, which serves students with special needs, and must move out of leased space in Falmouth next June. In addition, moving the Central Office will free space at 196 Allen Ave. for the expansion of Casco Bay High School, and will allow adult education programs to continue at the former Cathedral School on Munjoy Hill.

The Goodwill building will cost $2.7 million to acquire. Legal fees and renovations are expected to run an additional $900,000.

The district could close on the building by late January, according to the School Department, with the consolidation being completed before the start of the 2014-2015 school year next September.

On Nov. 18, the council heard a first reading of orders to make the move happen. But confusion seemed to reign at that meeting, as councilors expressed concerns about the complex series of votes, which were preceded by a required public hearing just minutes before.

Earlier in November, the council’s Finance Committee and the School Board each unanimously approved the consolidation.

Still, councilors had questions on Monday, probing School Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk and Chief Operations Officer Peter Eglinton for information about the impact of the move on parking and other issues.

As in November, councilors appeared to lack information about the move, despite its widespread support.

“I don’t remember being reached out to about this issue,” Donoghue said. “This is really my first chance … I’m still uneasy about some of the urban development questions it raises.”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.