Portland forum provides peek at Hall School plans

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PORTLAND — About 30 people, mostly members of the Hall School Building Committee, gathered in the Fred P. Hall Elementary School for the first community forum on replacement of the school.

Construction of the school is expected to begin in May 2017, with the opening proposed for September 2018.

The Feb. 4 forum was originally scheduled for Jan. 27, but was postponed due to a snowstorm.

It began with a presentation from consultants at OakPoint Associates, the architecture and engineering firm in charge of the redesign, and eventually broke out into three smaller discussion groups for audience members to hear more about topics like layout and materials, systems and security, and site circulation and outdoor play and learning areas.

Replacing the 60-year-old school at 23 Orono Road will cost more than $20 million, according to a study done by OakPoint. But the project was placed on the Maine Department of Education’s Major Capital Construction Approved Projects List, which made it eligible for state funding.

Rob Tillitson, founder and president of OakPoint, said there are limits to what the state will pay; for example, things like a larger gymnasium than the state says belongs in an elementary school will have to be paid for by the city.

City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who chairs the building committee, warned there is only so much that could be paid for locally, from tax revenue.

“Every local dollar spent is one dollar we have to find somewhere else for other projects,” Suslovic said. “We don’t have a cash machine, but you only get a build the school once.”

A new building would be two stories tall, Tillitson said, a departure from the existing single-story construction. He said that would allow older students to be on the second floor, and younger ones on the ground floor, which would be safer in the event of something like a fire alarm.

He also asked those in attendance to think about mementos, like the school aquarium, they would like to see saved from the existing school and put to use in the new one.

Tillitson said finding more space could be tricky on the existing property, because there are wetlands that make the land difficult to build on. He added the new school would probably have the same overall footprint as the existing building, which houses 421 students, but would have more overall space thanks to the second floor.

The construction plan must still be approved by the School Board, the state, and eventually a public referendum, likely to be held in November.

“The message we’ve gotten is full speed ahead,” Suslovic 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.