May 25, 2013

Official: Funds will be approved for Portland school replacement

Deputy Education Commisioner Rier says most of the $20 million cost would be covered.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Portland's $20 million replacement of Hall Elementary School will be approved for funding through the state's Major Capital School Construction Program, a state Department of Education official said Friday.

click image to enlarge

Portland's $20 million replacement of Hall Elementary School will be approved for funding through the state's Major Capital School Construction Program, a state Department of Education official said Friday, May 24, 2013.

Gordon Chibroski / 2009 Staff File Photo

"There isn't any question that this round of projects will get to (Hall.) I just don't know when," Deputy Education Commissioner Jim Rier told city and school board officials at a City Hall meeting.

Every few years, the Education Department seeks applications for state funding, evaluates and scores project proposals based on need, and issues a priority list that will be the basis of capital improvement funding decisions for the next few years. The state has already approved funding for the first six projects on a priority list announced in 2011; the Hall school project, expected to cost $20 million, is ranked 12th.

Almost the entire cost of the Hall project would be covered, Rier told officials. The State Board of Education pays for as many projects from the list as funds allow.

"We're enormously encouraged that we can get funding for Hall," Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said Friday.

Portland officials had been planning to ask voters to approve a bond for as much as $45 million to fund replacing Hall and to renovate Longfellow and three other elementary schools. But a consultant's report to the school board found that even bare-bones "life-safety" improvements at the schools would exceed the suggested $46 million budget.

Three more options, each adding more features, proposed escalating budgets up to $72.4 million for the most elaborate proposal.

If the state pays for the Hall replacement, that could allow the school board to pick a proposal with more features without having to ask voters to approve a bond for more than $45 million.

Two school board members at the meeting, Chairman Jaimey Caron and Justin Costa, said the board would have to consider all the options before making a recommendation to the council, which must approve any bond before it goes to the voters.

The timing of the next batch of projects to get funding from the state is uncertain because it must be recommended by Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen and approved by the State Board of Education.

Rier was less confident on whether the Longfellow project, currently No. 18 on the list, would be in that next group, saying the likelihood is "50-50." Schools on the priority list that don't get funded can reapply to be on the next priority list, which Rier said would likely be announced in about 2017.

Past funding rounds paid for Portland's East End Community School and Ocean Avenue Elementary School projects.

 

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

ngallagher@pressherald.com

 

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