Portland council panel kills proposal for 'Education District'

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PORTLAND — The so-called “Education District” proposed for the city by members of the University Neighborhood Organization will remain just a proposal for the time being.

The City Council’s Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee tabled the idea indefinitely on May 1.

After urging by UNO President Carol Schiller, the committee had asked city staff to explore the possibility of including the proposed district in an ongoing study of new way-finding signs that would better guide drivers around six city neighborhoods – and also better market them.

Backed by $50,000 from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, the project is creating a new, color-coded network of signs for traffic downtown, along the waterfront, in the East and West ends, and in Bayside and Parkside.

At an additional cost of $18,000, the study would have also included a broad swath of the city off the peninsula, from the University of Southern Maine west in a rough triangle bounded by Forest, Brighton and Stevens avenues.

But after talking with representatives of USM and the University of New England, which also has a campus in the area, city staff said both schools were satisfied with the scope of the current study and saw no reason to expand it.

“Given the feedback provided from both USM and UNE, staff recommends that the concept of way-finding for an ‘education district’ be set aside,” Senior Planner Bill Needelman wrote in a memo.

After the meeting, the committee’s chairman, Councilor David Marshall, said, “The committee is taking staff guidance not to proceed. … We would have needed to see a strong calling for (the district’s creation) from those institutions and all those involved.”

Schiller said she was upset and disappointed after a reporter informed her of the committee’s decision – but also undeterred.

“The idea has been heard and met with a lot of enthusiasm. We now have at least some coinage that this area really is ‘the education district,'” she said. “We’re going to continue using the term.”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.