Portland elementary schools need $70M worth of repairs

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PORTLAND — The School Board will likely recommend that the City Council endorse borrowing $70 million for repairs to four elementary schools.

The board is set to have a first reading of the bond proposal at its June 7 meeting, followed by a vote to recommend it to the council on June 21.

Reiche, Lyseth, Lincoln and Presumpscot elementary schools all need various levels of repair, according to the School Department.

The cost comes from a study by Oak Point Associates called “Buildings for Our Future,” which was completed in 2013, and also included the Fred P. Hall Elementary School. In April, voters overwhelmingly approved a nearly $30 million plan to replace the 23 Orono Road school.

Since Hall was on the state Department of Education’s Major Capital Construction Approved Projects List, most of the cost will be covered by the state. Approximately $1.4 million will come from borrowing.

While city residents who turned out for a public hearing on May 24 were overwhelmingly in support of bonding for the additional school renovations, the project would come at an added cost.

If passed by referendum, it would mean none of the projects would be eligible for the state funding that will help rebuild Hall. At an April 28 joint meeting of the school’s finance and operations committees, Chief Financial Officer Ellen Sanborn said the state won’t accept applications for projects that have been successfully passed via referendum.

However, at the May 24 workshop and public hearing, School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione said the $70 million would not be “one lump sum” paid by taxpayers, but would instead be used incrementally as each school is repaired.

Board members spoke in favor of the proposal, with many saying that while school staffs have been innovative coping with problems, repairs are overdue. Board member John Eder said there eventually comes a point where a learning environment “can no longer be overcome with innovation” and becomes an impediment. He said it would be “shortchanging” the schools to have anything less than the full $70 million.

“The time to act is now,” Eder said.

Board member Jenna Vendil said it is important for the board to follow the recommendation of the finance and operations committees and move the proposal forward to the City Council.

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

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.