The Portland Board of Education on Tuesday once again sharply trimmed its maintenance wish list for next year, scaling back its request to the city just one week after voters passed a controversial $64.3 million local bond to upgrade four elementary schools that deteriorated from years of deferred maintenance.

The school district has a comprehensive, 10-year plan for maintenance, financed in part with city capital improvement funds. However, the city must approve funding for those projects every year, and usually funding is far short of what both municipal and school officials identify as their capital improvement plan requests. Last year, the district got $2.5 million in capital improvement funding, about half what it requested.

For the 2018 cycle, district officials said they scaled back their request after city officials said only $4 million in school projects would be considered – even though the district identified more than $20 million in upkeep and “top priority” projects.

“This work is not going away,” board member Laurie Davis said Tuesday about the unfunded projects. “We are simply continuing to defer that maintenance. We have very serious questions to ask ourselves and our community. We are really going to have to wrestle with this: How do we maintain our facilities or what are the facilities we can afford to maintain?”

The board held a workshop Tuesday on the CIP request after its regular board meeting.

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana told the board that City Manager Jon Jennings advised the district that total city CIP borrowing would be about $15 million, and the district should request no more than $4 million, with $1 million of that coming from school district reserve funds.

The city’s five-year CIP plan says the recommended general fund borrowing for CIP in 2019 should be limited to $14.4 million. In 2020, it recommends general fund borrowing of only $8 million.

During the bond campaign, a major complaint was that the bond became necessary because of years of deferring basic maintenance at the elementary schools.

The district’s original plan anticipated the need for $7.7 million in CIP project funding for 2018, and another $12.9 million in “top level priorities” for maintenance that were not included in the 10-year plan. Among the projects were installing curb cuts at Portland High School, replacing the vent system at Casco Bay High School/Portland Arts and Technology High School (PATHS), replacing the roof at Portland High School and numerous upgrades at various schools to make handrails, bathrooms and other features compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other items included $750,000 for replacing windows at Deering High School, adding a freight elevator to PATHS for $250,000, installing $1.2 million in fire-suppression sprinklers at Deering High School and $700,000 to replace a retaining wall and iron railings at Portland High School. All of those projects, among others, were not included in the final CIP request and will be pushed out to future years’ requests.

The board’s request will be included in the city’s overall fiscal year 2019 capital improvement plan. The overall list will be reviewed by the City Council’s finance committee before a public hearing and council vote.

Botana said district and board officials understand the funding simply isn’t available to meet all the district needs.

“That’s the reality of this,” he said. “While not an ideal situation, it’s one we’re dealing with and trying to be realistic about that.”

Davis noted that the city can’t fund its own maintenance demands either.

“The city’s needs are there too,” she said. “(The limited funding) is realistic, but does it address our needs long term? No. There’s a day of reckoning coming.”

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

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