Vetting of Portland school needs won’t allow November bond vote

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PORTLAND — The remote chance that city voters would decide to fund a $70.6 million school bond in November was removed Monday night.

The Ad Hoc School Facilities Committee led by Mayor Ethan Strimling and School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione convened for the first time in City Hall, and set a schedule of school tours and meetings that will carry it past the Sept. 7 deadline needed to put the bond question on the ballot.

“The plan is now ours and we have to work on it as we see fit,” Strimling said. “Our goal in the first month is to understand the plan as best as we can.”

In order to have the bond question on the Nov. 8 ballot, the City Council would have to hold a public hearing and vote 60 days before the Nov. 8 election.

On the schedule this month are tours of Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools, with targeted sessions being held in September on the aspects of the bond to upgrade and renovate the schools.

In the 90-minute meeting Monday, 15 members of the public spoke before the committee began its business, with nearly all in favor of the bond.

“Maintenance should not be considered a cost, it should be considered an investment,” said Thomas Street resident Jeanne Swanton, who called herself “a Reiche parent and a lover of Portland.”

Cushman Street residents Emily Figdor and her daughter, Isabella, each spoke of the condition of Reiche School and the need for repairs.

“We couldn’t have our lights on without disturbing another class,” Isabella said of the open space concept that has also led to excessive noise.

Emily Herlihy, also of Cushman Street, said she teaches at Presumpscot, where modular classrooms are outmoded and inhibit learning.

“They are too small, and the walls are too thin,” she said.

The committee is using Oak Point Associates’ “Buildings for Our Future” report, updated in March, as a touchstone. After a July 18 City Council workshop produced more than 60 questions about the report and affected schools, committee members added more queries following Monday’s public comments.

Joining Strimling and Morrione on the committee are School Board members Anna Treverrow, Stephanie Hatzenbuehler and Sarah Thompson, along with Councilors Justin Costa, David Brenerman and Nick Mavodones Jr.

Morrione assured the committee the $70.6 million estimate does not include repair projects such as fixing the leaky library roof at Reiche, while Brenerman said he would like a clearer picture of which neighboring communities have funded school projects without state aid.

Trevorrow added she would like to know what percentage of new or rebuilt schools in Maine have been funded solely through local funds.

In 2010, voters in South Portland approved $41.5 million bond to renovate and expand South Portland High School. A year later, Scarborough voters approved a $39 million bond to rebuild Wentworth Intermediate School.

Between 2000 and 2005, elementary schools in South Portland were reconstructed or replaced using local bonding.

The public is invited to accompany the committee on the school tours. The first is set for 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3 at Lyseth and Presumpscot schools. the committee has not set the date for the second tour, but expects to meet at 5 p.m. Aug. 30 to again review the Oak Point report.

While public comment was accepted Monday, Strimling said in a text he was not sure when the committee might hear testimony again.

Once it has completed its study, the committee will refer the bond proposal back to the School Board. From there, it will be reviewed by the City Council Finance Committee, led by Mavodones.

In order to be put to a vote, the bond proposal must be approved for the ballot by the City Council, following a public hearing.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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