PORTLAND – The school board will decide Tuesday whether the city should buy a former seafood processing plant and 2.9 acres to accommodate a new central kitchen for Portland schools.

The board is expected to send a recommendation to the City Council to buy 92 Waldron Way, now owned by Portland Shellfish Co. Councilors will be asked to vote on the acquisition Sept. 5.

Portland Shellfish processed shrimp and lobster, but the building is no longer used for processing, said Peter Eglinton, the school department’s chief operating officer.

In April, the Food and Drug Administration shut down Portland Shellfish for “numerous violations” of federal laws and health regulations including listeria, a bacteria that can cause serious infections, on a conveyor belt.

Eglinton said the school department was fully aware of the plant’s health record and got an environmental assessment of the building. The assessment showed it was clean.

“We were very interested in the listeria and seafood allergens. Those tests came back negative,” he said. “Our first concern is making sure that it’s a safe place to prepare food for our children.”

Eglinton said another environmental assessment will be done before any sale is completed.

School Board Chairwoman Kathleen Snyder said Portland Shellfish would have to fix any structural, environmental or health problems before the city would sign a purchase-and-sale agreement.

Snyder said she didn’t know what the purchase price would be. The land and the 21,250-square-foot, steel-framed industrial building that’s on it have a total value of $1.8 million.

The central kitchen prepares about 2,500 meals a day for the city’s elementary and middle schools, as well as Casco Bay High School.

Opening a new central kitchen has been a priority for years. The central kitchen is now in the former Reed School, a 33,364-square-foot facility with portions built in 1926 and 1950.

“Food production at Reed meets bare minimum standards for health inspections, worker safety and achieving nutritional and financial requirements for school meals,” wrote Facilities Director Douglas Sherwood in a memo to the board dated Aug. 14.

Sherwood wrote that school officials toured several other properties, including a 15,500-square-foot building at 166 Riverside Drive, but that would cost $3.9 million to buy, renovate and equip.

The staff also considered building a kitchen on the campus of Portland Arts and Technology High School and Casco Bay High School, but that project would have cost $3.5 million.

The City Council approved $3 million in 2010 to purchase and equip a new central kitchen.

The council and school board approved the purchase of 92 Waldron Way in 2010, but the deal fell through because the company could not follow through on its plan to consolidate operations in South Portland.

City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr., who was mayor in 2010, said he will likely vote to approve the sale, if the school department can confirm that the building has been sterilized.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

 

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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