SOUTH PORTLAND – City councilors said Monday that an independent review is needed for the high school renovation proposal that officials hope to put before voters in November.

The $47.3 million plan for South Portland High School is scaled back from a $56 million borrowing proposal that voters rejected by a ratio of 3 to 1 in a 2007 referendum. The revised plan would require borrowing $44.2 million.

During a workshop Monday, councilors emphasized the need to avoid another defeat at the polls.

“It’s really, really crucial that this thing go,” said Mayor Tom Coward. “What will make me comfortable with it is an independent review.”

The discussion of South Portland High’s renovation comes as the city considers other major building projects.

Consolidation of the city’s middle schools — Mahoney and Memorial — has been part of the district’s plan for several years. School officials hope the state will fund part of their plan to close Mahoney and build a new school on the Memorial site.

The timetable will not be clear until the state Department of Education releases its priority list for school construction next year.

Municipal officials, meanwhile, are considering their own projects.

Topping their list is a new public works facility, projected to cost $8 million. Their No. 2 priority is renovating or replacing City Hall. Several options, ranging in cost from $1.2 million to $5.8 million, are being considered.

Carrie Hall-Indorf, a member of the city’s Secondary School Facilities Committee, told councilors that she was distressed to hear that those projects — but no school buildings — were on their list.

Coward noted that the list covered only projects initiated on the municipal side.

“We’ve known in the back of our minds there’s this tens of millions of dollars that will need to be spent on the high school project. That has always been out there. This is the No. 1 thing for the city. I think everybody feels that’s the case,” he said.

School board and School Facilities Committee member Ralph Baxter Jr. said he welcomes an independent review of the high school project, which he believes could be done quickly. A review would provide advice on whether the plan could be improved and whether the cost estimates need adjustment.

During the committee’s presentation, Baxter said he felt that councilors failed to show leadership before the 2007 referendum.

“I’m willing to stand with you shoulder to shoulder to support this,” he said.

The project calls for tearing down a 1960s annex and renovating other parts of the high school.

The committee brought down costs by removing an artificial turf field, a second gymnasium and 29,000 square feet of space. The revised plan does include energy-efficient features, improved handicapped accessibility, better flow between parts of the school and a design that funnels people through a main entrance.

City Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis was pessimistic that voters would approve the revised plan. She said voters would be more comfortable with a figure around $30 million.

“I can’t get behind this at this point,” she said. “I want to get behind it, so I strongly support the independent review.”


Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]