The Portland City Council voted 8-1 on Monday to buy the former Goodwill building at 353 Cumberland Ave. for $3.6 million.
The vote clears the way to move Portland Public Schools’ central office, West Program, and Multilingual and Multicultural Center downtown.
The school district could finalize the purchase of the three-story, 50,000-square-foot building in late January, which would allow the programs to move before the 2014-15 school year, school officials said.
City Councilor Kevin Donoghue cast the only dissenting vote Monday, saying he was concerned that the move would prevent future redevelopment of a surface parking lot.
Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said in a prepared statement that moving the programs downtown presents better opportunities to access services, such as the Boys & Girls Club, the Portland Public Library, City Hall and Deering Oaks park.
“West students will benefit from nearby educational and community resources. The central office and multilingual center staff will benefit from easy access to our colleagues at City Hall and opportunities for more collaboration,” Caulk said.
The central office is now at 196 Allen Ave. Its move downtown will leave room for the expansion of Casco Bay High School, a popular school that offers students a hands-on method of learning.
Casco Bay High’s enrollment has been capped at about 280 students almost from its inception in 2005. The district wants to expand its enrollment to as many as 400 students, said Peter Eglinton, the district’s chief operations officer.
The school increased enrollment by 55 students this year by shifting uses of existing spaces, Eglinton said Tuesday.
The West Program, which serves students with emotional disabilities and/or mental health diagnoses, is now operating in leased space at the Plummer School in Falmouth. It was moved there in June because its facility on Douglass Street in Portland had fallen into disrepair. That lease, costing $75,000, expires in June.
The move will especially help the district’s multicultural center. About one-quarter of the more than 7,000 students in Portland Public Schools are from countries where English is not the primary language. Many immigrant and refugee families live in downtown neighborhoods, such as Parkside, East Bayside and West Bayside.
The program is now housed at Lyman Moore Middle School, near the Portland-Falmouth line, so it’s difficult for families without vehicles to get there.
Although the purchase solidifies the future of several programs, the future of Portland Adult Education is still in flux.
The district is leasing the Cathedral Grammar School on Congress Street. The three-year lease, which expires in 2016, will cost $540,000, Eglinton said.
“This location works well for the program,” Eglinton said. “We will continue to consider what is in the best interest of the students and of taxpayers as we look past 2016.”
INCREASED BUILDING HEIGHTS APPROVED
Also Monday, the council also voted 6-3 to increase the allowed height for a mixed-use development on Munjoy Hill by 5 feet. Councilors Donoghue, David Marshall and John Coyne opposed the increase.
The vote allowed the plan for 12 luxury condominiums with first-floor retail and parking at 118 Congress St. to move forward to a Planning Board workshop on Tuesday.
The developer, Chip Newell, said the increase was needed to allow for the first-floor retail use. Without a first-floor ceiling height of 13 feet, the spaces would not be attractive to retailers, he said.
Although the height increase was relatively modest – raising a proposed 45-foot-tall building to 50 feet – a handful of neighbors opposed it because they feared it would ruin the Congress Street view of the Portland Observatory and set a precedent for future height increases.
The council also unanimously approved height increases for buildings proposed on Thompson’s Point, a $100 million mixed-use development with a 3,500-seat arena first pitched 2011. Construction has yet to begin.
The maximum building height was increased from 65 feet to 120 feet and the residential density was increased from 60 to 120 units per acre, provided the project uses the city’s new master planning process.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: