Portland is about to begin construction of a $29.7 million school to replace the Fred P. Hall Elementary School off outer Brighton Avenue.

But first, logging crews must cut and remove more than 3 acres of trees near Capisic Brook to prepare the site for a new 558-student school. The logging operation is expected to start this week and construction is scheduled to begin in mid- to late May.

“It is really exciting to get started,” said school board member Laurie Davis, who represents the district and served on the building committee. “It is going to be a beautiful school.”

This architect rendering shows the new entrance to the Fred P. Hall Elementary School in Portland. Photo courtesy of Oak Point Associates

The original Hall school, built in 1956, had an electrical fire in 2012 that displaced the 400-plus students for two weeks. The fire and other problems, such as poor drainage and rotting siding, prompted the state to cover all but $1.4 million of the replacement costs.

The new school will have room for 558 students. In addition to the larger gym, local funding will be used for features approved by a special committee and the school board, including a bigger cafeteria, additional play structures and outdoor learning spaces, and certification as a “green” building.

It is expected to be completed in fall 2018.

The project is kicking off as the city debates how best to improve four other aging elementary schools. Mayor Ethan Strimling, parents and a majority of councilors want city residents to vote on $64 million in local bonds to fund all four school projects, while a minority of councilors would like to put a $32 million bond to city voters in hopes of receiving the rest of the money from the state. Neither side has gotten the seven votes needed to send either option to voters, and councilors may ask them to choose from the two competing proposals.

While the school community is strongly behind the Hall school replacement, the first phase of the project will bring about significant changes in the neighborhood – particularly for K.C. Clark’s family, who lives at 67 Lomond St.

The modest home, built in 1937, is nestled in a wooded lot, amid wildlife and towering oak trees, at the end of two dirt roads. Soon, a swath will be carved out of the woods next to the home to create a 35-foot wide public entrance to the new Hall school. Another area of trees between Sagamore Village and Capisic Brook will also be cleared.

Clark said he has mixed feelings about the project. He’s glad the kids are finally getting a new school and that the city is making the road they live on more accessible for emergency vehicles, but he is concerned about the displacement of wildlife on the 21-acre site, including a variety of bird species.

“It’s tough to see a sanctuary go, but it’s all about the kids and getting them a good education,” said the 37-year-old Clark, who helps take care of his aging mother and stepfather.

K.C. Clark, who lives on Lomond Street, stands where the new entrance to Hall Elementary School will pass his family’s home. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

In all, 3.2 acres of trees will be cleared from the site, according to Douglas Sherwood, the school’s facilities director. “We are hoping to clear about 2.8 acres this week,” Sherwood said in an email.

That means that area residents should prepare for a full-blown logging operation – from the buzzing of saws to truckloads of timber being hauled from the site.

Deb and Dean Truitt live at the corner of Warwick and Riggs streets, where the new entrance will be located. They’re not excited about the upcoming construction, but they believe the finished product will be big improvement. They still expect to be able to walk in the uncut portions of the woods.

“It will have an impact, but the trails will still be there,” she said.

Davis said the logging was considered in the planning process and that the school and entry roads were designed to protect the most important tree stands and waterways.

“It’s like the building almost wraps around the trees,” she said. “They built the playground to incorporate the trees. It was very intentional.”

A view of the Hall School exterior showing the library/classroom wing. Photo courtesy of Oak Point Associates

The construction project will shift into high gear next month, after the trees are cleared, and continue through September 2018.

According to planning documents, construction will occur in two phases and students will attend classes in the existing building as it progresses.

In addition to clearing trees for the new road and school, the first phase includes installation of utilities and construction of the north and west wings.

Although a March 28 memo to the Planning Board indicated that kindergarten classrooms might be relocated to Deering High School during construction, Davis said all students will remain on-site, with two fifth-grade classes using modular units.

The second phase involves demolishing the old school and finishing the parking lots, driveways and play areas.

The end product will be a two-story, 85,000-square-foot building, with a 64,000-square-foot footprint. The public entrance to the school will be via Riggs and Lomond streets, while the current school entrance on Orono Road will be used only as a bus loop.

“It’s exciting to think about cutting a ribbon on a new school in a fairly short period of time,” Davis said. “I think this has been worth the wait.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @randybillings