Portland school officials are rethinking their plans for replacing Hall Elementary School after learning there would be fewer students in the district than expected in future years and that the state might pay for a bigger project if Longfellow School were included in the plan.

Until now, the district was moving ahead with a $20 million state-funded plan to replace Hall on its current site on Orono Road off outer Brighton Avenue. But with fewer students, the state will only pay for a smaller school than Portland planned.

The original plan was to build a new two-story building that doubled the 54,000 square feet of the current building. Based on new demographic data, however, the state would pay only for a replacement of the 54,000 square feet.

Every few years, the Maine Department of Education seeks applications for state funding, evaluates proposals based on need, and issues a priority list that is the basis of capital improvement funding decisions for the next few years. Seventy-one projects made the list in 2011, and that list was later winnowed down to a smaller group of approved projects.

Hall is one of 12 school projects on the state’s approved list, and is at the beginning of a years-long, 21-step process to be built.

The current discussion does not derail that process, but likely means a delay.

The proposed opening for the Hall school replacement had been September 2018.

Another major factor, according to City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who is also chairman of the Hall School Building Committee, is how much money the city has for major capital improvement projects over the next 10 years.

That’s because the city had planned to use local funds to renovate Longfellow and three other elementary schools: Reiche, Lyseth and Presumpscot. But recent reports indicate the city does not have enough money for the city’s overall “needs list,” which includes those elementary school projects, Suslovic said.

“We’ve got some tough issues to face,” Suslovic told the school board Tuesday night at a workshop following its regular meeting, held at Lyman Moore Middle School.

School board chairwoman Sarah Thompson said the board and City Council would need to meet to discuss finances, then come up with various scenarios to present to the community before moving forward on the Hall School project.

If the city decides to stay with the plan to just replace Hall, it means local taxpayers would have to pay for Longfellow. If they combine the schools, the state would pay for the new school, Thompson said.

“They’re not saying we have to do this, but the state is saying they would pay for a new school if we do both,” said Thompson. “That’s the dilemma.”

The state money would pay for a basic school design, and local funds would be required for additional items. Officials had hoped to put the funding question to voters this fall, asking whether they want to accept the state funds and, in another question, whether they approve of local spending for additional elements that may be desired.

That November vote is now likely to be delayed, Suslovic said.

Portland used state funding to build the East End Community School in 2006 and Ocean Avenue Elementary School in 2011.

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