Review of high school renovation proposal begins in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — An independent review is underway of a plan to rebuild South Portland High School.

City Manager Jim Gailey said Harriman Associates, the architecture firm that has been working on a high school plan for several years, is in the process of turning over the necessary documents to two other firms.

Gailey said the plans will be reviewed by Bob Howe, of HKTA/Architects, and Tom Frederick, of Wright Ryan Construction.

“We feel the two firms that we have brought on have extensive knowledge and capability of producing a quality document addressing the proposed scope,” Gailey said.

The bulk of the review will be done by Howe, whose payment will not exceed $5,000, while Frederick will charge the city $95 an hour.

“At this time we are anticipating the cost to be below $10,000,” Gailey said.

The review is being spearheaded by the City Council, which hopes to build confidence in the most recent plan approved by the Secondary School Facility Committee and the School Board.

South Portland High School was built in the 1950s and expanded in the 1970s and 1997. The 1970s “annex,” as it is known, suffers from a lack of insulation, water leakage, mold and overall decay. There are also access issues throughout the school. The 1997 music and theater addition was built on what some describe as marshland, and has to be constantly air-conditioned to prevent mold from growing.

The high school has been put on warning status by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which accredits high schools, and has until October 2013 to have a plan and funding in place to address the concerns the association has noted with regard to the physical structure of the building.

Voters defeated a $56 million renovation plan by a 3-1 margin in 2007. Councilors said at a recent workshop they wanted to make sure the current $47.2 million plan, which eliminated a second gym, artificial-turf field and extra classrooms, is the right one.

The school district would like to place a bond issue to finance the project before voters in November.

On July 2, Gailey met with City Councilor Jim Hughes, School Board member Ralph Baxter, School Superintendent Suzanne Godin and City Finance Director Greg L’Heureux to develop a scope for the review.

The peer review will analyze the project cost, efficiency of the construction timeline, and whether the refurbished school will meet state and accreditation standards.

Reviewers will also be asked to compare the proposed project to other school projects in the state, and, if the South Portland project is more expensive, offer an explanation.

Finally, the team will be asked to give its overall opinion of the plan and whether any changes should be made.

While the team will not be directly asked whether components of the plan exceed state and accreditation standards, as claimed by some residents who are critical of the plan, Gailey said that will be examined during the review “under another broad heading.”

Assistant Superintendent Steven Bailey sent an announcement to facility committee members on Tuesday, cancelling their July meeting. He said a possible August workshop may take place with the City Council and School Board to review the findings.

“The City Council is very interested in getting this work done and is paying for the review,” Bailey said. “It should be of great benefit to all of us once completed.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or