PORTLAND – The West School will remain in its current building for the 2011-12 school year, and possibly much longer, after a proposal to move to Woodford’s Congregational Church’s Parish House was rejected by the church.

Now, with no other options, the Portland school department must devise a plan to improve West School’s long-neglected building on Douglass Street, which has a leaky roof, a sunken foundation, broken windows and poor insulation, among other problems.

The department doesn’t have the money to fix everything at once, but it will “pick away” at the problems with small, yearly upgrades, said Superintendent Jim Morse.

“We’re very disappointed” by the church’s decision, Morse said, calling the Douglass Street building “deplorable.”

“We don’t have a Plan B. All our eggs were in one basket because there aren’t many places to move that would meet all the students’ needs. … It would have been an awesome location.”

This spring, the department made a 10-year proposal to the Woodfords Church that would have paid the church $90,000 in the first year, and 3 percent more each year after that, said Jeffrey Jordan, the parish’s moderator.

The church’s Council of Ministries recommended the deal, but the congregation voted it down 75-25 on June 12, Jordan said.

The church had marketed the parish house for sale or rent as a way to boost revenue, which has declined as membership has fallen.

The Woodfords Church congregants also voted down proposals to sell the four-story Parish House to Avesta Housing and Community Housing of Maine, each of which wanted to transform the building into low-income housing for senior citizens.

Jordan said that once the church factored in the cost of moving its offices out of the parish house, the school district’s proposal would have netted the church less than $40,000 over the 10 years of the deal.

“The congregation’s view of it was it’s just not a return that’s worth the amount of change it would take,” Jordan said. “You get very attached emotionally to building space. It’s hard to admit the organization is shrinking.

“I think the congregation understands it intellectually,” he said, “but we’re still struggling to accept fairly dramatic changes in our society.”

The West School takes in Portland students with behavioral problems who have struggled to succeed in their neighborhood schools. It had 47 students at the end of the 2010-11 school year.

The school’s mission is to provide extra structure and discipline, and personalized care for each student. That care includes working to resolve behavioral issues and reintegrating the students back into their neighborhood schools.

Morse said the decaying building doesn’t help the students stay enthusiastic about education. “It doesn’t make sense to have the youngsters who are most in need in a building that’s most in need,” he said.

Erin Frazier, the school’s teacher leader, said West School’s students are often academically exceptional and are already overcoming major hurdles. They don’t deserve such shoddy facilities while other students in Portland have access to new and modern facilities, she said.

“I have parents say, ‘Why do I have to send my kid to such a dump?’” Frazier said. “And it was built over a landfill. So they’re not far off.”

Pam Butler, whose son attended West School for 2½ years, said the decaying facility adds to a stigma that’s already associated with the school.

It’s anxiety-provoking enough to move one’s child out of a neighborhood school, she said, and when the school they will attend is crumbling, it only add to parents’ hesitancies.

“It’s a shame because I can’t say enough nice things about West,” she said. “The services they provide, and the job the staff does, is just incredible. I only wish they had better facilities and the ability to handle more kids because they do such a fantastic job.”

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be reached at 791-6437 or:

[email protected]


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