Portland plans massive school renovations

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PORTLAND — Voters next November may be asked to spend as much as $46 million to replace or renovate five of the city’s elementary schools.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk announced the School Department has hired Oak Point Associates, a Biddeford-based architecture and engineering firm, to develop plans for replacing Hall Elementary and renovating Presumpscot, Lyseth, Reiche and Longfellow elementary schools.

“This is an investment in our students, in our future and in our city,” Caulk said in a press conference at Hall Elementary School on Orono Road. “(But) it’s about equity as well. Equity for excellence, such that all students have acess to a great school and part of that equation is having a learning environment that is state-of-the-art and has all the programs and amenities that 21st century learning needs for our students to continue to excel.”

Oak Point Associates will develop preliminary site plans, construction schedules and estimated costs for the projects with a goal of presenting the information to the School Board in June.

Peter Eglinton, chief operations officer for the department, said the plans will vary depending on the school. He said the firm plans to meet with staff and parents in each of the school communities to explore needs.

“Many of the schools (in the district) have more students than can be comfortably accommodated within the building,” Eglinton said. “We’ve (also) got issues of equity, where some schools have music and art spaces (and) where some schools do not. Some have gymnasiums that are also used for cafeterias and staging.”

He added that while teachers have been making use of the spaces they have available, they and the students deserve more.

If all goes according to plan, the School Board will begin deliberating next June before sending a proposal to the City Council, which will have to decide whether to present a bond referendum to voters in November.

Eglinton said the amount to be borrowed will be unknown until Oak Point Associates comes up with a total cost for the project.

“The figure that we’re looking at at this point is roughly $46 million, which is significant,” he said. “We’ve got over $100 million in capital needs throughout our district, but there’s no way that at one time we can satisfy all of that.”

While state funding covered most of the cost of the recent East End Community School and Ocean Avenue Elementary School projects, there is no help from the state expected for this project, the school officials said.

Eglinton said this project can’t wait much longer.

“As any homeowner would tell you, there is a certain level of maintenance (required) over time and if those are ignored, the costs continue to grow and become an even harder hit down the road,” he said.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.