PORTLAND — Names are important.
They can evoke strong feelings of reverence, nostalgia or a sense of place.
That’s why the Portland Public Schools is now seeking input on whether the nearly $30 million Hall Elementary School on Orono Road should be renamed when the doors reopen this fall.
The question, according to School Board member Laurie Davis, who co-chairs the Hall School Building Committee, is whether the School Department should continue to use the existing name or consider potential new names for the building.
An online survey is available through March 20 and a public hearing on whether to rename the school and what that name should be will be held at 6:30 p.m. March 21 at the school, Davis said this week.
“We don’t have to rename it, but we can,” she said, and the School Board “didn’t want to be presumptuous and decide on a name without any public input.”
Davis said Hall School is different from the last two new elementary schools the School Department opened. Both of those – East End Community School and Ocean Avenue Elementary – combined students from schools that were shuttered.
However, Hall School is still very much neighborhood-based.
“I don’t know how people feel about the Hall name,” Davis said. “There are (certainly) some people who like the name and it does have historical and emotional significance.”
“I have no horse in this race,” she added, noting she has already received several suggestions, including naming the new school after a woman or a person of color.
Davis said someone recently sent her an email suggesting that the new school be named after Eugene B. Jackson, who was born in Portland and became a member of the renowned Tuskegee Air Squadron, an all-black unit that won the Congressional Gold Medal for its service in World War II.
Davis said there is a board policy that governs the naming of any new school building.
The school name, the criteria demand, must “preserve or honor history; be place-specific; recognize landmarks or geographic locations in proximity to the school; honor a person who has made an outstanding contribution to teaching and learning; or honor a person who has made a significant social contribution at the local, state, national or global level.”
According to a School Department press release, Hall School, built in 1956, was initially known as Glenwood Square, but was renamed after the death of Fred P. Hall, who was a well-known educator.
Davis said Hall was the Deering School District superintendent and a former president of the Portland Teachers Association, as well as a long-time head of the history department at Deering High School.
She said he either lived near Hall School or walked in the neighborhood quite frequently, which is why the local community wanted to posthumously honor him and his contributions.
Davis said the School Board will make the ultimate decision about whether to rename Hall School, but a review panel made up of members of the Hall Building Committee would collect all the suggestions and make a recommendation to the board for its consideration.
Davis, who is the District 3 representative on the School Board, said she would be holding a community meeting this week and would also be meeting with the Hall School PTO and members of the faculty and staff to ensure there’s input from those stakeholders.
Anyone in the city is welcome to make suggestions for a new school name and should contact Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than March 20.
The full School Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the naming issue at 7 p.m. on April 3 with a final vote scheduled for April 24.
The public is being asked if the new Hall Elementary School in Portland should be renamed when it opens this fall.