PORTLAND – The West School special education program would move to the parish house at Woodfords Congregational Church under a lease proposal being considered by school officials and church members.

It’s one of three proposals to reuse the parish house that will be presented to the congregation on Sunday morning, said Jeff Jordan, parish moderator.

The West School program serves about 50 students in kindergarten through high school who have significant emotional and behavioral issues and are unable to attend classes in the city’s other public schools, said Superintendent Jim Morse.

School officials want to remove children from the former elementary school on Douglass Street because it doesn’t meet modern educational standards and cannot be significantly renovated because of its condition and location.

“With minor modifications, at the school district’s expense, (the parish house) would be a substantial improvement for our schoolchildren,” Morse said Wednesday.

Morse declined to discuss lease details, including the annual rental cost, while school and church officials are in negotiations. He said the proposed 2011-12 school budget would cover any related costs in the coming year. The district now leases no privately owned properties, said Jaimey Caron, a school board member.

The other proposals for the parish house were submitted by Avesta Housing and Community Housing of Maine, Jordan said. Both Portland nonprofits want to develop housing for seniors.

The congregation sought proposals to reuse the parish house based on a recent strategic plan that calls for forming community partnerships to help maintain its large church buildings.

At its peak, in the 1950s and 1960s, the congregation had 1,500 members and one of the largest Sunday school programs in the Northeast, Jordan said. Now, it has 500 members and mounting financial needs.

Built in the 1950s, the four-story, brick parish house stands to the left of the church. It includes a dozen classrooms, offices, a gymnasium and a meeting hall with a stage.

The congregation would continue to provide space for the Portland Conservatory of Music, which has operated at the parish house for three years and has two years left on a five-year lease, Jordan said. The conservatory would move to another location on the church campus, Jordan said.

The congregation will review the three proposals, consider the pros, cons and financial impacts of each one, then decide as a whole which proposal is best, Jordan said.

The congregation has a history of helping people in need, Jordan said. Through the years, it has sponsored or hosted a variety of programs targeting hunger, homelessness and other community concerns.

“Forming a partnership like this wouldn’t be new to us,” Jordan said.

If the special education program moved to the parish house, the school district would be able to consolidate its adult education program at West School, Morse said. Currently, the adult program is divided between West School and Riverton Elementary School off outer Forest Avenue.

The district’s long-term goal is to close West School, Morse said.


Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]