Portland residents eye educational reuse of Nathan Clifford School

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PORTLAND — With the new Ocean Avenue Elementary School scheduled to open in January, the School Committee is preparing to transfer ownership of the Nathan Clifford Elementary School to the city. 

While the city has yet to start the process for determining the future of the more than century-old Falmouth Street school, a few residents have been meeting quietly in an effort to steer the debate.

One of them, Martha Sheils, said ideas for potential educational uses for the school include an academy of arts and sciences as well as partnerships with Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Planetarium.

Another, City Council candidate Ed Suslovic, said the group has been meeting with professors from the University of Southern Maine about establishing a specialized school for elementary, middle and high school teacher training, called the Maine Center for Science and Technology.

“They’ve been doing that (training) mainly in the summer,” Suslovic said. “But their big limitation is USM doesn’t room during the school year to host their sessions.”

The primary concern of residents, Suslovic said, is that the building not sit vacant for an extended period of time, citing the former Marada Adams Elementary School as an example.

That school was transferred to the city in late 2006 with the opening of the East End Community School. After several community planning sessions, the site only attracted the attention of one bidder, Avesta Housing, which is planning to tear down the school and build affordable housing.

But those plans have been stymied by the recession. The property remains untouched.

The School Committee is scheduled to vote on turning over Nathan Clifford to the city at its next business meeting.

City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the council’s Community Development Subcommittee would likely discuss future uses soon after the building is turned over on Jan. 3.

The CDC will ultimately make a recommendation to the full council, Clegg said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net