SOUTH PORTLAND – South Portland residents react at passing of

$41.5 million high school bond.

SOUTH PORTLAND – South Portland, you are getting a new high school.

After months of debate, deliberation and discussion, the voters of South Portland have given the city the go ahead to borrow $41.5 million for a $47 million rehabilitation of South Portland High School, which was constructed more than 50 years ago.

By an unofficial vote of 6,673 to 4,297, South Portland voters backed the high school plan, three years after overwhelmingly defeating a $56 million renovation plan.

“Obviously we are thrilled with the result,” said Jeff Selser, spokesperson for RenewSPHS, a group of parents and community members committed to seeing the high school project prevail. “We think it is a great night for the city of South Portland. It really shows that the city and its citizens care deeply about education and the economic development of the city.”

The project, designed by Harriman and Associates, calls for replacing the annex and renovating the original part of the high school, Beal Gym and around the auditorium. The project would better secure the facility, make it more energy efficient and fix some of the physical problems, which include poor handicapped accessibility, a leaky roof, asbestos and air quality issues, poor insulation and ventilation, and outdated plumbing, electrical and heating systems. The plan will

Renew SPHS has spent countless hours over the last few months educating the public about the project, including hold a number of tours of the high school and community forum about the need for a new high school. Over the past few weeks, volunteers had gone door to door handing out information and talking to voters who still hadn’t made up their mind.

“It’s been a huge effort on our part, but we have said all along that once we got the information out to the public, the decision would be obvious,” Selser said.

“We’d like to thank the voters of the city,” he added. “This is a tremendous opportunity.”

Ward clerks across the city found a steady stream of voters coming to the polls, some attributing it to the interest in the high school bond vote.

“It’s been steady all day for the most part,” said Alan Gay, a ward clerk for District Three. “This year has been a little busier than usual because you’ve got the gubernatorial race and the high school bond issue.”

Outside of a lull in the afternoon hours, Gay said the South Portland Community Center was busy with voters from District Three and District Four all day, with many voters showing up in the morning, lunch and dinnertime hours. The bond passed in that section of town by a 1,850 to 1,158 margin.

Jean Ray, ward clerk in District Two, where the project passed by a 950 to 505 vote, agreed that the high school referendum was a big reason people were coming out to the polls. District One voters accepted the bond, 1,026 to 561. In District Five voters approved the measure 932 to 585. Voters who voted at the central polling place, South Portland City Hall, passed the bond issue by a 1,915 to 1,488 margin.

“It has been very, very good,” Ray said of the turnout at the American Legion Hall. “It’s been very smooth and very busy for a non-presidential election. My personal feeling is that is because of the South Portland High School bond issue, which people feel pretty strongly about whether they are for it or against it.”

“I am definitely for it. We need it for the children and we need it for the community in terms of tax base and attracting people here,” said Mary Linneman, of Simmons Road.

The threat of the school losing accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges if the structural issues are not addressed made the choice easy, she said.

“Anytime you have a threat like that, how can a community not support having a viable school for their children,” she asked.

Many of the people who voted for it, such as John Perry, of Lahave Street, supported it because they felt it was important for the future of South Portland.

“I voted in favor of it,” he said. “I got kids in the city who will be going top high school soon. I think it is important for the city to invest in education.”

Ed Ramos, of Romano Road, also voted with his children in mind when he marked the box to support the bond issue.

“I voted for it. I have children in the school. I have some young children and one in the high school,” he said. “I think it is a good idea to have some work done at the high school with the shape it is in now. It is something that is long overdue.”

Lisa Mills, of McKinley Street, who voted in favor of the project, said the current conditions of the high school is so bad that she will not send her 8-year-old son to South Portland High School if the school doesn’t get fixed before the time he gets to high school.

Roseanne Stiles, of Sawyer Street also hopes the school is in better condition when he children get to high-school age.

“I have children who are going to be using the school and I know it is something that needs to be done,” she said.

Critics of the bond, like Heidi Doherty, of Gerry Avenue, don’t deny the school needs work, but feel the plan, as presented, is not the right one for the city, especially during a time of economic struggle. Other critics have argued that the project is much too large and expands the school to a size greater than its current needs.

“I am not for it. I think it is too much money. I think they can do a better job fixing what needs to be fixed. The kids need a new high school, but I think they can come up with something better,” Doherty said.

Alison Moore, of Chestnut Street, agreed with Doherty in calling into question the spending plan.

“I think there needs to be some renovations done at the high school, there isn’t a question about that,” she said. “I think it is the money they are asking for that is the difficult part. I’d like them to come up with a better plan. I know they cut a lot out of this plan, but I still think they can probably cut a little more.”

Pauline Dimino, of Mussey Street, said she doesn’t see this project as any more appropriate than the one three years ago that voters rejected by a 3-to-1 margin.

“I voted against it. We already voted it down once, but I think they have again tried to do too much with it. They need to scale it back,” she said. “I have no kids in the schools so I get no direct benefit from it. My taxes go up every year as it is [because of education].”

Carolyn Williams, of Harriett Street, who also does not have children in the South Portland school system disagreed, saying now is time for the project to get done.

“It needs to be done. It is important for the future of our kids. They deserve a wonderful school,” said Williams.

It was a busy Election Day Tuesday across Maine and in South Portland, where poll worker Gloria Dinsmore, above left, helped voters like Donna Shackley, above right, cast ballots at the Boys and Girls Club. The vote on the high school expansion and renovation bond referendum drew people to the polls, and the measure passed overwhelmingly. (Photo by Rich Obrey)

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