Portland schools seek $500K to assess building needs

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PORTLAND — In a week when the ramp at Howard C. Reiche Community School was closed because of structural concerns, School Department officials continued looking into a facilities assessment for all school buildings.

Whether the issue at Reiche is an isolated incident or one piece of a larger problem is something the department and School Board hope to discover.

Chief Financial Officer Ellen Sanborn said a full assessment of all the buildings hadn’t been done “in a while.”

The School Board held a first reading Jan. 19 of a proposal to allocate $500,000 for the assessment, but Sanborn said she expects it will cost less. She said the department will need approval from the City Council, since the project would rely on budget surplus.

If the council approves the funding, the School Department will issue a request for proposals.

Sanborn said Oak Point Associates, the architecture firm that created the Buildings for Our Future study on renovations to the city’s elementary schools, will be going back and updating the study independently from the facilities assessment.

Buildings for Our Future, which Oak Point completed in 2013, looks at the existing conditions of Reiche, Fred P. Hall Elementary School, Lyseth Elementary School, Presumpscot Elementary and Longfellow Elementary. It also looks at program space at each school, and outlines recommendations and potential budgets and time lines for renovations.

In a memo to the department’s finance committee, Sanborn said, “Since the Buildings for Our Future effort was completed there was little or no focus on capital projects for those schools, with the anticipation of major renovation or replacement taking place instead.”

Since those renovations have not taken place, “we find ourselves in need of programming some basic capital improvement projects for the elementary schools,” the memo continued.

One item is the ramp at Reiche, accessed via Clark Street, which was fenced off this week due to unsafe conditions. The cost to remove the ramp at Reiche is listed in the 2017 five-year capital improvement plan at a cost of $250,000.

A citizen-run Facebook page called Protect our Neighborhood Schools has recently been created to highlight various facilities needs at each of the district’s elementary schools. The page, run by parents and community members, calls out the city for putting off renovations “for more than a decade.” The stated goal of the page is “to pass a bond this year to renovate Portland’s elementary schools.”

The only elementary school slated for any major renovations is Hall at 23 Orono Road; a full replacement is planned at an expected cost of $29.7 million. The bulk of funding would come from the state, with $1.4 million potentially coming from taxpayers. A referendum on the local proposal for funds is expected to be held April 5.

Hall, which was built in 1957, was damaged by fire in 2012. The new school construction plan was placed on the state’s Major Capital Construction Approved Projects List.

Sanborn said Oak Point’s update will look to see how costs are holding up and if they have risen since the study was completed. She said the hope is that Oak Point will complete the study this month, and return it to the operations committee and then the full School Board.

“There was a lot of focus on the elementary school buildings, but it’s been a while since we’ve done a comprehensive study of all (the schools),” Sanborn said.

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

The Howard C. Reiche Community School is one of five Portland elementary schools that was assessed in the Buildings for Our Future study, which recommends renovating or replacing the schools. The School Department is also proposing a facilities assessment of all the buildings.

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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.