Portland schools to study security, elementary facility needs

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PORTLAND — After adopting a report on the programming and space needs of the city’s school buildings, the School Committee last week wasted no time taking the next steps toward drafting work plans for the city schools.

The committee passed two resolutions on Oct. 7 calling for an assessment of capital needs in the elementary schools and the emergency preparedness of every school in the district. 

Superintendent James C. Morse Sr. must submit a plan for both efforts to the committee by Dec. 7. 

Although the district is moving forward with an assessment of the city’s elementary schools, committee member Jaimey Caron tapped down any expectations that there would be tangible improvements anytime soon. 

“The fruits of what we do tonight probably won’t be realized by anyone that is on the planet at this point,” Caron said. “This is going to take a great deal of time to look at. If we don’t take this step tonight, we put off for yet another generation the problems we have.” 

The problems cited in an evaluation of school buildings basically center around equity issues, since city school buildings vary greatly in age.

While the district is currently overseeing the construction of a new school on Ocean Avenue, there are others that are so old and overcrowded that portable classrooms have seemingly become permanent fixtures. Other schools, including Riverton Elementary School, the high schools and middle schools, have been updated within the last 10 or 20 years.

One resolution calls for Morse to assemble a task force for elementary school principals and community members. The group will work with consultants, if needed, to draft a list of capital needs and present local and state funding options for funding any recommended improvements.

The group is scheduled to complete its work and report back to the School Committee by May 1, 2010. That deadline would allow the district to use the recommendations when submitting applications for the state-funded capital improvement plan, the deadline for which is June 15, 2010.

“Portland public schools intends to submit multiple applications,” the resolution said.

The task force will also look at “the distribution of students throughout the city.” 

While the elementary assessment will involve extensive public input, a separate evaluation of emergency preparedness will be conducted only by school officials and public safety personnel. The district hopes to fund any safety-based improvements with homeland security money.

Assistant Superintendent Jill Blackwood said the city has allocated $60,000 in security funds for the school. 

Both resolutions leave open the possibility of using independent consulting architects and engineers, who could be called in at the discretion of the superintendent with the School Committee’s approval. Caron said he is confident the City Council will allow the district to use a portion of the $400,000 remaining from the sale of Martins Point to cover those costs, as it did with the comprehensive study that took place over the last year.

“I’m very comfortable that at the end of the day, those funds will be available to cover the work we anticipate,” Caron said.  

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