PORTLAND – Longfellow Elementary School needs a cafeteria, a gymnasium, a dedicated computer laboratory and more storage space for students and teachers.

Those are just a few of the items on the wish list of parents who attended the first of five public forums that are planned before the school board, the City Council and Portland voters are asked to approve elementary school improvement projects costing as much as $46 million.

“This is really important work,” said Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk. “I firmly believe that all students should have access to a great school.”

About 40 people attended Thursday’s forum at Longfellow Elementary School.

Caulk said the district also wants to make improvements to Reiche Community School, Lyseth Elementary School and Presumpscot Elementary School, and wants to replace Hall Elementary School.

Caulk said the Buildings for our Future project is intended to bring equity to Portland schools, ensuring that students in all elementary schools have access to the same educational programs, services and benefits.

Once each school community has weighed in at the forums, a list of construction projects will be developed and presented to the school board and City Council for approval.

That plan would then be presented to Portland voters in November as a bond package.

Justin Costa, a school board member, said it is important for the city, with aging, crumbling schools, to embrace the improvement package.

“This is more than just schools. It’s about the city at large,” Costa said.

“It shouldn’t matter what neighborhood you grow up in. You should have equal access to school services.”

Caulk urged parents to build support for the school improvement funding package by talking to friends and neighbors.

“This is building for our future. It’s an investment,” he said.

“This is the closest we’ve ever been to making Longfellow a better school,” said Dawn Carrigan, Longfellow’s principal.

Oak Point Associates, a Biddeford-based architectural and engineering firm, was hired by the city to develop a school improvement plan.

To learn more about the school improvement projects planned in Portland go to: www.portlandschools.org/buildings-our-future.

The next forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 10 at the Reiche school.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]