State board OKs funding for replacement of Portland’s Hall School

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PORTLAND — The State Board of Education has given final design and funding approval for the construction of a new building to replace Hall Elementary School on Orono Road.

In addition to announcing final state approval for Hall School, this week the Portland School Board is expected to approve a new application requesting state construction funding for two of the city’s high schools: Portland High, and Portland Arts and Technology, which also houses Casco Bay High School.

Nearly all of the costs to build the new Hall School will be picked up by the state. But in a city-wide referendum held nearly a year ago, residents approved spending $1.4 million in local funds for upgrades to the project.

The local money will be used to cover the cost of building a middle-school-sized gym, which can also be used by the community; a cafeteria that is large enough to accommodate two, 30-minute lunch periods, and state-of-the-art security.

“This milestone in the state approval process gives the green light for the $29.7 million project to go out to bid and for construction work to begin,” the Portland School Department said in a press release.

The new Hall School, which would have the capacity for up to 588 students, is expected to open in the fall of 2018. According to the School Department, preliminary site work might even begin before the school year ends in June.

In addition to the OK from the State Board of Education, the Hall School project also requires site plan approval from the city Planning Board.

“This new building will ensure that Hall students have a 21st century learning environment that meets their educational needs,” Jeanne Crocker, assistant superintendent for school management, said.

Students will continue to attend class in the existing building, which was built in 1956, while the new school goes up on the same property.

The School Board meets Tuesday evening, and Superintendent Xavier Botana has asked members to approve his proposal to seek state funding for the high school projects, which would cost more than $86 million.

In materials provided to the board before its meeting, Botana also said he’s prepared to seek money from the state to help renovate four of the city’s elementary schools, depending on what the City Council decides to do about a school bond referendum.

The proposed $64 million bond would upgrade Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools.

The application for state construction funds is due by April 15. Botana said based on a study of all the city’s schools, which was completed last fall, the two high schools and the four elementary schools best meet the state’s published criteria for capital school construction funds.

The Sebago Technics study also showed over the next 20 years, the School Department would require an investment of approximately $321.4 million to keep its facilities in good condition.

That amount, however, includes the proposed upgrades at the four elementary schools and the two high schools now under discussion.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Construction is likely to start this summer on a new Hall Elementary School in Portland. School officials anticipate a fall 2018 completion date.