PORTLAND — The school board won’t go ahead with plans to buy a building on Riverside Street to house a new central kitchen, leaving just two options: build a new facility or renovate the aging Reed School kitchen.

School officials had signed a letter of intent to buy a building on Riverside Street to convert to a kitchen, at a cost estimated at $3.9 million. The decision to withdraw the offer, made at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting, means school officials will either pursue putting up a new building at the Portland Arts & Technology High School, at a cost of about $4 million, or renovate the current kitchen at Reed School, which would cost about $3.4 million.

Kate Snyder, the board chairwoman, said the district would have owed $10,000 for an option fee if it had not withdrawn its offer on the Riverside Street property by the end of the month. She said the board has no firm timetable for deciding what to do about the central kitchen.

The central kitchen is currently housed in a former school building on Homestead Avenue. Parts of the building date back to 1926, and it’s located in a residential area.

The kitchen prepares 2,500 meals daily for most of the city’s schools — only Deering High School and Portland High School have their own kitchens for making lunches. After the meals are prepared, they are trucked to cafeterias in schools throughout the city.

Jim Morse, the district superintendent, said the board will probably need to made a decision about the central kitchen in the next three or four months.

City officials set aside $3 million in a capital improvement budget a couple of years ago for the central kitchen, so school officials would need to go back to ask for more money in next year’s budget, he said.

Snyder said she’s keeping an open mind on what course to follow, but she noted that school officials have pointed out that most of the renovation money for Reed School would go to equipment and a redesign of the kitchen. Maintenance costs on the former school would likely be higher than those for a new building, she said, so the board will need to look beyond bottom line construction costs in making a decision.

Concerns about the Reed School kitchen were heightened this week when background material in the board’s agenda packet suggested that there were health and safety issues at the facility.

Rod Adams, the district’s food service director, said most of the concerns raised in health inspections revolve around worker safety issues, such as tasks that could be done by a machine but are instead performed by workers who could suffer an injury.

He said the 2010 inspection by the city’s health inspector gave the facility a score of 89 out of 100 and the major issue was the need to clearly label sinks for their intended use.

An inspection completed Thursday notes mostly minor issues and indicated that the overall cleanliness of the facility was “great.” The state-developed inspection form no longer includes a numerical score.

Portland’s health inspector, D. Michele Sturgeon, did not return calls seeking comment.

Morse said there are advantages to putting up a new building now that cost estimates have come down to the same neighborhood as renovating the former school building.

“To me, it’s not a building that you would invest in,” Morse said of Reed School, noting that it was never intended to be a kitchen. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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