After hours of heartfelt public testimony supporting the idea, city and school officials on Thursday endorsed a $61 million bond proposal to renovate four Portland elementary schools.

“I’m thrilled,” parent Emily Figdor said after the vote. She had helped organize a parents group that lobbied officials to support a larger $70 million bond to renovate Presumpscot, Reiche, Lyseth and Longfellow elementary schools.

The Portland School Facilities Ad Hoc Committee voted 7-1 to endorse the proposal, with City Councilor Nick Mavodones dissenting. Mavodones had proposed a more limited $32 million bond to renovate two schools and seek state funding for the other two. That proposal did not get any support. The committee has been meeting for months, and had whittled the $70 million proposal down to $61 million.

The committee’s recommendation will now go to the school board for approval, then to the full City Council for a final vote on what bond amount will go to voters. The school board has previously voted to endorse a $70 million bond.

“We keep coming back to the same conclusions – get it to the voters. We need to do that, otherwise I don’t think we have a lot of credibility as your elected officials,” said school board member Marnie Morrione. “This will make Portland great.”

“I really think we need to make this investment,” said school board chairwoman Anna Trevorrow, who also sits on the ad hoc committee. The deferred maintenance at the schools, she said, “is devastating.”

During several hours of public testimony, dozens of people said they support bonding for all four schools. Only three people supported a more limited bond.

“Please take this very necessary first step,” said Jess Marino, who has three children in the district. “Our schools are worth it.”

Multiple speakers talked about the poor conditions in their children’s classrooms, such as skunks living under a modular classroom, students seeing social workers in an office created out of a broom closet and a wall falling over last week at Reiche. The renovations are earmarked for practical fixes, such as installing functional heating and windows that open, making schools accessible for all users, eliminating use of trailers for classrooms and easing severe overcrowding.

In addition to dozens of parents speaking, several lawmakers spoke in favor of the full bond.

“We can’t wait around any longer to mess around with this,” said local state Rep. Richard Farnsworth. “We have put off for 20 years what should have been done annually.”

The elementary schools have not had major investments since they were built, about 45 to 65 years ago. The schools have old mechanical systems and asbestos. Students attend classes in modular buildings and classrooms without walls, and receive non-classroom instruction in hallways and converted closet spaces.

City officials estimate that a $61 million bond would increase property taxes by 3 percent over the next 20 years, costing the owner of a $225,000 house nearly $2,500.

Mavodones said his $32 million alternative plan was an effort to save the city money.

“If we can save the local taxpayers money to do one or two of those schools (with state funds) I think that is a prudent thing to do,” he said Thursday.

The state, which provides construction funds for the neediest schools, closed the most recent funding cycle in September, just as Reiche and Longfellow had moved up to Nos. 2 and 3 on the list of projects to be funded. Typically, no more than about a dozen schools receive money in any one funding cycle.

“It’s time to ask the public if they want to pay for it,” said school board member Sarah Thompson, noting that the board has spent more than $7 million over decades studying the need to renovate the schools. “I’m tired of talking about this.”

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

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