Portland referendum likely next year on rebuilding Hall School

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PORTLAND — Plans for replacing the aging Fred P. Hall Elementary School are on track for state approval in October.

The Hall School Building Committee has met twice since the School Board on June 16 approved a plan to replace the school at 23 Orono Road.

Replacing the school is expected to cost at least $20 million. At its Aug. 5 meeting, the committee unanimously accepted the proposed site plan.

The committee also voted unanimously to approve the educational specifications.

Deputy City Manager Anita LaChance said the committee is moving “full steam ahead.” She said she hasn’t received any negative feedback about the site plan development.

“This will be on a Planning Board workshop agenda for Sept. 8 and the hope is to have the Building Committee (including a public meeting and straw poll) and School Board take action on this in September, with the goal of getting approval from the State Board of Education in October,” LaChance said via email.

The school would be rebuilt on its existing lot. Craig Worth, deputy chief operations officer for Portland Public Schools, said the next discussion the committee will have to have is where to house students during the construction. He said there are three options.

The first is to keep all the students on site while the new building is being built. He said the construction area would be fenced off under this scenario. He said this would also likely require the use of portable classrooms.

The second option is to keep some students on the site and move others off, such as moving fifth-graders into a nearby middle school.

The third option is to move all students off the site during construction.

Worth added the Maine Department of Education would like to see the students remain on the site.

School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson, who is on the Hall committee, said where to put the students will be “an ongoing conversation.”

Worth and Thompson said the next step after the Planning Board workshop on Sept. 8 will be to send a draft of the site plan to the Department of Education, likely on or around Sept. 11. It will then go to the School Board, probably on Sept. 29, where the straw poll will take place.

Worth said it appears a referendum vote for replacing the school is probable next year. The committee had originally hoped the referendum would take place this November.

Construction is expected to begin in May 2017, and September 2018 is the projected opening of the new school. Capacity of the new building is projected at 525 students.

The School Board voted against consolidating Hall with the nearby Longfellow Elementary School into a single, larger school, as suggested by the Department of Education.

Hall was placed on the state’s Major Capital Construction Approved Projects List last April, making it eligible to receive state funding. Longfellow is one of four other city elementary schools farther down the list.

The others are Reiche, Lyseth and Presumpscot.

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

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Hall School, 23 Orono Road, Portland.

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.