Superintendent's Notebook: Portland’s elementary school buildings need your help

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Portland students should have the same opportunity to attend schools with excellent facilities, whether they live in North Deering or Nason’s Corner, on the Western Promenade or on Munjoy Hill.

Currently, that is not the case.

We have three state-of-the-art elementary schools that were built or renovated in the past six years: East End Community School, Riverton Elementary School and Ocean Avenue Elementary School. All three buildings conserve energy, accommodate the latest technology and allow students to participate fully in the arts.

We also have five mainland elementary schools that fall far short of those standards: Hall, Reiche, Lyseth, Longfellow and Presumpscot.

Built between 1952 and 1972 for the children of the Baby Boom, those schools now suffer from problems such as leaking roofs, crumbling masonry and congested areas for dropping off students.

Due to high enrollment, some of those schools use modular classrooms and even closets to house students and staff. Several buildings fall short of Americans with Disabilities Act standards and some lack safety features, such as sprinkler systems. They also lack adequate space for a full range of educational activities, including art, music, physical education, hands-on learning and new programs such as pre-kindergarten.

Portland residents value education, and they consistently show their support at the ballot box. In years past, they approved funds to complete major renovations of our middle schools and high schools.

We now are embarking on a comprehensive effort to upgrade Portland’s mainland elementary schools so that all are suited for 21st century learning. The recent fire at Hall School and lack of expansion space at other elementary schools underscore the importance of addressing our long-delayed facility needs.

Our district has conducted several studies over the past 15 years to identify deficiencies in our elementary schools that detract from student learning. We have worked to phase in improvements in order to lessen the impact on taxpayers and disruptions to teaching and learning.

As we begin the next phase of improvements, our top priorities are replacing Hall and modernizing Reiche, Longfellow, Lyseth and Presumpscot schools.

The Portland City Council unanimously approved $700,000 in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan to begin planning and preliminary design. Over a seven-month period, we will work with an architectural and engineering firm, Oak Point Associates, to create preliminary site plans, construction schedules and estimated costs for those five projects.

We will involve the public in every step of the process. We’ll begin this winter with neighborhood design charettes to brainstorm ideas for each school.

Oak Point Associates will present a final report and recommendations to the Portland Board of Public Education next June. The board and the Portland City Council will review those recommendations and decide on next steps. A referendum for elementary school projects is planned to go before voters next November.

Portland needs a vibrant school system to attract residents who buy homes in our neighborhoods and businesses that provide well-paying jobs. Improving our elementary facilities will help make that happen. Please help us plan for the next generation of Portland schools.

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Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk writes this column monthly. He can be reached at Read his blog at