PORTLAND — Although construction is still likely years away, the city and School Board have taken small steps toward replacing the Fred P. Hall Elementary School.
The school replacement was placed on the state’s Major Capital Construction Approved Projects List in April, which means the work is eligible to receive state funding.
“There’s no fiscal impact any time soon, and certainly this is way overdue for our students and our staff. They’ve been working in a building that’s adequate at the moment but certainly needs some help,” said School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson.
Hall Principal Cynthia Remick said the current building has experienced problems with rain. Some classrooms have drains leading inside, so that external water flows through the building. In August, a flood inside the school caused thousands of dollars worth of damage.
“Things like that baffle my mind,” Remick said.
There are four phases to the replacement project, officials explained, starting with the state’s site approval for the school. There is no guarantee that the existing site or neighborhood will be used for the replacement. After site approval, the project would have to receive approval of concept and design, and then receive funding.
Thompson said the work is now in the early stages, and that the School Board will be going before the City Council on Nov. 17 to establish a building committee, made up of parents and community members.
“In the past when we had Ocean Avenue and East End schools, each had about 12 members on the building committee,” she said. “That’s what we’re shooting for here.”
Aside from damage issues, Remick said there is a need for a new school due to Hall’s high enrollment, which now totals 450. Because of the increasing number of students, rooms that weren’t typically used for teaching have become classrooms. There are even desks in the hallways to accommodate students.
Additionally, Remick said she hopes the new building will have a separate cafeteria and gymnasium, as right now they are the same thing. Because of this, she said, they’ve had to shorten lunch and gym classes in order to ensure both happen.
“It’s a huge barrier to learning because we have to get a certain number of gym classes in but also feed 450 kids,” she said.
Located at 23 Orono Road, near Sagamore Village, the Hall school was built in 1956. It’s had a number of structural problems over the years, most recently an electrical fire in 2012 that required the entire school move somewhere else for two weeks.
“Even before there was a fire there was a need,” Remick said.
“The Hall community was wondering when this would ever come about, they probably thought we forgot about them,” Thompson said. “We certainly didn’t.”
Replacing the school is expected to cost $20 million, according to a study done by Oak Point Associates, an architecture and engineering firm hired by the district. Oak Point presented a timeline to the School Board on Oct. 21, with the ultimate goal being to have construction begin in May 2017 and have the school occupied by September 2018.
The hope is to have approval from the state Board of Education by June, so that a referendum could go out to the public in 2015 to ask voters to approve state funding.
“We’re optimistic that we’d hopefully have final funding approval by January, 2017,” said Doug Sherwood, facilities director for the school district. “We would hopefully be out to bid shortly after that.”
Thompson said they are committed to renovating the other elementary schools around Portland mentioned on the Approved Projects List, including Reiche, Lyseth and Presumpscot. She said Longfellow is further down on the state’s list.
And while the schedule says Hall likely won’t be open until September 2018, things can change.
“It’s a major methodical process,” Thompson said. “Ocean Avenue finished months early (when it was renovated). It all depends on weather, materials, how fast projects move along.”
Remick said she hopes the design will be the original plan that Oak Point Associates had, which was to build behind the current location. This way, she said, they can expand on the parking area, which she said is not sufficient.
“Pick-up and drop-off is a nightmare,” Remick said.
Rain and fire damage are main concerns, but Principal Cynthia Remick said there are a number of reasons why the Fred P. Hall Elementary School should be replaced. They include lack of storage, a growing enrollment, an inadequate parking area and the need for a better play area.
Because of heavy summer rains, this interior drainage system sprung a leak in the Fred P. Hall Elementary School. The result was thousands of dollars worth of damage.
Fred P. Hall Elementary School Principal Cynthia Remick said this was one of the school areas hit hardest by rain. It saturated the tiles, causing them to fall and become a safety hazard. Remick said the staff eventually gave up on replacing the tile and settled for this screen material.