South Portland schools plan to hire firm to pitch renovation project

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The School Department plans to hire a communications and marketing firm to promote a new renovation plan for the high school.

Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin said she contacted three firms this fall asking them to submit proposals, which were used to develop a matrix for identifying and weighing communications strategies.

The Secondary School Facilities Committee discussed ranking the strategies at its Nov. 19 meeting. Godin said a subcommittee will be formed to interview and evaluate proposals that will be solicited during a formal solicitation process.

“One of the charges from the (School Board) was to develop a communications plan for the high school project,” Godin said. “The board will then ultimately approve the recommendation of a company.”

The School Department held a joint workshop with the City Council last month to update councilors on changes to the high school renovation plan and to seek their support for a June referendum. Though no cost estimates were discussed at that meeting, those numbers are expected to be finalized for another joint meeting scheduled for Jan. 28.

Residents in 2007 rejected a $56 million bond to improve the high school by a 3-1 margin. But they approved a $5.8 million bond this summer to begin updating the school’s electrical and fire systems.

School officials have said the new high school plan will likely come in somewhere in the range of $40 million to $45 million. Costs were trimmed by eliminating an artificial turf field and a second gymnasium.

Architects from Harriman Associates, which has been paid nearly $860,000 over the last several years – nearly $525,000 of which is solely for the high school renovation project – told councilors on Oct. 26 that 14,000 square feet has been trimmed from the original plan.

Harriman representatives said a June referendum would allow the city to take advantage of a favorable construction market, which has brought in bids for school projects in Brunswick and Falmouth that were 34 percent below estimates.

Facilities committee member Ralph Cabana said the panel has to do a better job telling residents about the existing problems at the high school, which have been detailed in a recent accreditation report, and why the plan they are putting forward is the best one.  

“We know we have to do a better job communicating with the public,” Cabana said.

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