Woodfords Congregational Church rejects lease proposed by Portland schools

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Plans in doubt for West School, Riverton preschool

PORTLAND — A plan to move the West School to the Woodfords Congregational Church Parish Hall at 202 Woodford St. has been scrapped.

The congregation voted 76-25 against the Portland School Department’s proposed 10-year lease. The school would have made use of Memorial Hall and classrooms for the district’s day treatment program for students with behavioral and emotional issues.

Approximately a quarter of the congregation’s 400 members turned out for last Sunday’s vote.

“There were a variety of reasons,” Moderator Jeffrey Jordan said. “For some it’s a tough admission, for those who grew up in the congregation, to give up almost half the building.”

As part of the proposal, the School Department would have paid $90,000 for the first year’s rent, with a 3 percent increase each year for 10 years.

Woodfords would have moved its parish operations into the chapel and spent an estimated $600,000 to renovate offices under the sanctuary.

Currently, the West School shares space with Portland Adult Education on Douglas Street. The plan was to move the school to Woodfords, move adult education classes now at Riverton School into the Douglas Street building and offer a free preschool program for Riverton area children as a way to improve student performance at the struggling elementary school.

As part of the deal with Woodfords, the Portland Conservatory, which currently uses the Memorial Hall space, would have been left homeless only a few years after the conservatory moved to the church space.

Jordan said the church would consider working with Portland Conservatory in the future, as the program looks to expand.

In the 1960s, the Woodfords Congregational Church was the largest United Church of Christ on the east coast, with more than 1,500 members. The congregation has shrunk considerably since then, cutting staff and working on ways to offset reductions in income.

Last year, the church put out a request for proposals and considered a plan to convert the Parish House into senior housing. That proposal was also ultimately rejected by the members, Jordan said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.