SOUTH PORTLAND — They stood in the showers of the decaying boys’ locker room, expressed concern at the lack of wheelchair access to many parts of the building, and chuckled at the presence of an elevator in a classroom.

About 40 people who toured South Portland High School on Tuesday night were taken back in time, to the 1950s, when the high school was built.

The tour and a presentation by school officials that followed were designed to raise awareness of the need to rebuild one of Maine’s largest high schools. For that to happen, South Portland voters will have to approve a $41.5 million bond issue at the polls in November.

Tuesday’s event was organized by Renew SPHS, a political action committee formed by residents to provide information to the community about the proposed renovation and expansion project.

“This is a giant scope of work, but it will really be worthwhile,” said Susan Adams, president of Renew SPHS. “We know we can get this measure passed because people are already coming out of the woodwork to support this. We have to be tireless in our effort to get the word out.”

Renew SPHS realizes it has a lot of work ahead. In 2007, voters defeated a $56 million high school borrowing plan by a 3-1 ratio.

At a meeting last week, the City Council voted to put a scaled-down school construction project before voters on Nov. 2.

Voters will be asked to authorize borrowing $41.5 million to demolish the high school annex — which was built around 1960 — build a new library and cafeteria, and reconfigure school entrances, to limit access to the building to just two entryways.

The school’s historic Beal Gymnasium would be preserved, but a classroom annex that was built around 1960 would be demolished and replaced with new offices and classrooms. The plan also calls for a new library and cafeteria.

All of the money for the project would come from the city’s taxpayers, because there is no state aid available.

Superintendent Suzanne Godin said there is a sense of urgency because the Commission on Public Secondary Schools is threatening to suspend accreditation for the high school unless it takes steps to correct some of its structural deficiencies. South Portland’s progress report is due to the commission Oct. 1.

“I can’t tell you how many families are waiting to see what happens Nov. 2,” said Justine Carlisle, who has two children in South Portland schools. “They are ready to put their houses on the market if this doesn’t pass.”

One of the biggest reasons to rebuild the school is its lack of secure entryways, said Principal Jeanne Crocker.

People who pass through the main entrance now can enter the school without being seen by workers in the main office. And because of the size of the school, numerous other doors must be left unlocked.

“It’s a big, sprawling building,” Crocker said. “And security is an issue. What we have now is seven or eight far-flung entrances that are wide open.”

Enrollment historically has been around 1,100 students, making it one of the largest high schools in Maine.

After voters defeated the $56 million high school project in 2007, the city hired Harriman Associates, an Auburn-based architectural firm, to design a less-expensive project that could serve the city for several decades.

Scott Pakulski, an architectural designer with Harriman Associates, said the project would take three years to complete.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]