Portland school bond financial details remain unanswered

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PORTLAND — For almost three hours Monday night the ad hoc committee reviewing a proposed school bond explored questions about four city elementary schools.

But questions remain about financing the $70.6 million.

“The next meeting will be a deep dive on the costs,” Mayor Ethan Strimling said.

The next committee meeting has not been scheduled.

Following tours of Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche schools and another review of the Oak Point Associates Buildings for Our Futures report last month, the committee returned its focus to questions about facilities, enrollments, safety and learning standards that were brought up in late July.

Strimling and School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione lead the committee. Joining them are Councilors Nick Mavodones Jr., David Brenerman and Justin Costa, as well as School Board members Sarah Thompson, Anna Trevorrow and Stephanie Hatzenbuehler.

In the meeting Monday, Strimling led the committee through the questions while crediting School Superintendent Xavier Botana, Morrione, Deputy City Manager Anita Lachance and Special Assistant to the Mayor Jason Shedlock for the research.

The Oak Point plan recommends the bond to repair and renovate the four city schools over the next six years to ensure equity for all students in terms of safety, learning opportunities and accessibility.

Second floors are proposed for Lyseth and Presumpscot schools, although Strimling and Morrione said the high end of enrollment projections in city schools are not likely to be achieved.

Eliminating the second floors could reduces costs by about $5 million, Tyler Barter of Oak Point said, while the renovations could be done to allow for a second floor in the future.

While Morrione said the School Board has not discussed redistricting plans for at least a year, Botana also warned that closing schools instead of renovating them is not practical.

“There is no way you could just close Presumpscot and put the 250 kids into contiguous buildings without pushing kids out of those other buildings,” he said.

The schools were built from 1952 through 1972. Longfellow lacks access for students with physical disabilities to get to the second floor, but the city remains compliant with federal and state regulations because those students attend other schools with transportation provided by the city.

While buildings are outdated and outmoded, Strimling reminded the committee they are still safe.

“It is not about whether our buildings are code compliant,” he said. “It is about equity.”

Oak Point was first commissioned by the School Board to study the condition of elementary schools in 2013. The committee found that $1.2 million has been spent on studying city schools since 2005, and that seven elementary school facilities studies have been made in 22 years.

Mavodones said he would like to know how many of the studies resulted in actual projects or improvements.

The ad hoc committee will make recommendations based on the bond proposal and Oak Point report, then send them to the School Board before the City Council Finance Committee takes up the discussion.

A bond referendum isn’t expected before next spring.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.