Portland moves closer to decision on $70M school bond

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PORTLAND — The School Board was set to have a public hearing and first reading this week of a proposal to borrow $70 million for repairs at four elementary schools.

The board would then vote June 21, and, if passed, the proposal would be sent to the City Council.

The schools proposed for renovations include Reiche, Lyseth, Lincoln and Presumpscot elementary schools, which were outlined in a 2013 report called “Buildings For Our Future” by OakPoint Associates.

The board was also expected to have a first reading on spending nearly $105,000 for three modular classroom buildings at Presumpscot.

The Fred P. Hall Elementary School at 23 Orono Road was also included in “Buildings For Our Future.” That school had several problems, including a fire in 2012. Hall was placed on the the Department of Education’s Major Capital Construction Approved Projects List, and a replacement project estimated at nearly $30 million was approved by voters in April. About $1.4 million will be borrowed, and the rest will come from the state.

If the City Council votes in favor of the $70 million bond proposal, a question would go before voters in a referendum, probably in November. If voters approve the referendum, the city would no longer be able to apply for state funding for the projects.

The $70 million proposal was recommended to the board by its finance and operations committees in April. The board held a public forum at the May 24 meeting, where board members and several members of the public spoke in favor of the proposal.

According to a memo to the board from Craig Worth, the school district’s deputy chief operations officer, increased enrollment at Presumpscot over the past several years has caused the building to be over capacity. The district has leased three modular classrooms for the past 10 years at a total cost of more than $423,000.

On Monday, Worth said the department would be purchasing all three of the 28-foot by 52-foot modulars at a cost of $2,900 a month for three years.

The lease on the classrooms expires Aug. 31, and Worth’s memo said are three options going forward: dispose of the units and develop a plan to address the capacity issue, which would cost $15,000; entering a  three-year lease, which would cost roughly $129,000; or purchase the three units.

Presumpscot is one of the schools identified as needing major renovations, which would eliminate the need for modulars. However, Worth’s memo said there is still a need for them in the short term.

“While purchasing at this particular time for a school that is slated for reconstruction in the next five years seems irresponsible, it is the best and most cost-effective way to deal with the overcrowding issue that Presumpscot faces,” Worth said in his memo.

Worth’s memo estimated the School Department could sell the modulars if they were no longer needed. In good condition, he said, the resale value is between $10,000 and $15,000 per modular.

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.