State board to consider Hall School project

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PORTLAND — Plans to rebuild the aging Fred P. Hall Elementary School continue to advance, as the State Board of Education is slated to vote on the site plan application Dec. 9.

At a Dec. 2 meeting of the Hall School Building Committee, Rob Tillitson, president of architectural firm Oak Point Associates, said the state board’s construction committee voted unanimously Nov. 30 to approve the application and send it to the state board.

The project was approved when the school was placed on the state’s Major Capital Construction Approved Projects List last April.  Replacing the school at 23 Orono Road has been estimated at nearly $28 million; an additional $1.3 million in locally funded projects could be added as well.

The Portland School Board was expected to vote Tuesday night on which items from the list of locally funded projects to recommend to the City Council. The City Council will then hold a first reading of the amount of proposed local spending on Jan. 4, and likely take a vote during a Jan. 20 referendum. A Council workshop is scheduled for Jan. 11.

City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who is chairman of the building committee, said the goal is to schedule the referendum soon, so there is “as much separation” as possible between the vote on the new building and the school budget in May. A referendum could be scheduled no sooner than 60 days after the Council votes.

Hall and the district’s four other elementary schools – Presumpscot, Reiche, Lyseth and Longfellow – were all red flagged for facilities improvements. The Maine Department of Education had previously floated the idea of combining Hall and Longfellow into a larger school, but that was shot down by the School Board in June. All the schools are on the state’s Approved Projects list, but are much farther down the line than Hall, and would likely not receive state funding. The belief was that the state would provide more funding for combining the two schools than rebuilding one school.

“Hall School is one piece of the puzzle,” Suslovic said.

Locally funded options include a number of projects ranging from security improvements, upgrading the athletic fields, repaving Orono Road and making the building more energy efficient. Also being proposed are a larger gym and cafeteria, which make up the bulk of the locally financed projects at nearly $875,000.

School Board member Sarah Thompson, who is on the building committee, has said in the past that she and other board members were not inclined to support expanding the gym and cafeteria because of the cost, and in light of the fact the district’s other schools need upgrades as as well. Tillitson said the full $1.3 million is being budgeted for state approval, but the city could choose to spend less after approval.

The committee also scheduled a straw poll to approve the budget and final floor plans on Dec. 22, ahead of the State Board of Education’s construction committee and full board votes in January. The nonbinding straw poll will be at Hall at 6 p.m.

Should Portland voters approve the spring referendum, construction is expected to begin in May 2017, and September 2018 is the tentative opening. Capacity in the new building is projected at 525 students, which would require a school of 75,000 square feet.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

The Fred P. Hall Elementary School on 23 Orono Road.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or