PORTLAND — The school superintendent is leaning toward the most expensive of three options to replace the School Department’s aging central kitchen on Homestead Avenue, according to a memo released late last week.

In the memo, Superintendent of Schools James C. Morse Sr. outlines a difficult decision the School Board will be forced to make in the coming months:Whether to build a new central kitchen at the Portland Arts and Technology High School, purchase other space, or renovate the existing kitchen in the former Reed School building on Homestead Avenue.

Morse suggests trying to build new.

The board has been meeting regularly in executive session to discuss the possibility of purchasing property for a new kitchen that would centralize the schools’ food services.

In that light, Morse’s memo appeared to have been intended for board members’ eyes only, but was released online with this week’s more-than-200-page School Board meeting information packet.

According to the information provided to the board, the School Department will definitely have to do something about the Reed School kitchen, built in 1950 as an addition to a 1926 building.

It is in a residential zone, which makes it an incompatible use for that area. The memo says the kitchen has “safety, health and productivity challenges that are drawing increased scrutiny from the Public Health Department.”

Food Service Director Ron Adams refused on comment on the central kitchen issues, deferring to Morse, who did not respond to several requests for an interview.

According to Morse’s memo, the department initially planned to purchase an existing central kitchen facility for $3 million, a plan was approved by the City Council last year. But that deal fell through this spring when the owner of the property “encountered complications at a proposed new site for his combined operations,” Morse’s memo said.

That left the board with three options: a $4 million new building at PATHS, purchase and renovate a 17,400-square-foot building on Riverside Drive for $3.9 million, or renovate the Reed School for $3.4 million.

The superintendent signed a letter of intent to purchase the 166 Riverside Drive property in August. According to the city assessor’s office, the property and existing warehouse are owned by 166 Riverside Drive LLC and have a real estate value of $745,900. The deadline for action is Nov. 30.

However, the memo makes it clear that new estimates to build a space at PATHS have made that the most attractive option.

The memo states that renovating the Reed School facility “would cost less up front, but we would still be left with an inefficient layout in a residential neighborhood that could otherwise be developed as a tax revenue generating property.”

The superintendent recommended the board vote against purchasing the Riverside property, and instead, defer action until a plan to build at PATHS can be fully investigated.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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