Portland City Manager Jon Jennings is looking to quickly move forward with nearly $1 million worth of upgrades to address safety concerns at a West End elementary school.

Jennings is proposing a new entrance at Reiche Elementary School that would separate the student body from members of the public who use the community center, and a new entrance to the gym so students do not have to use a hallway in the community center.

He also is looking to build an elevator, seal the underpinnings of the roof to fix chronic leaks and remove an outdoor ramp – possibly this spring – on the Clark Street side of the building. The ramp was closed last week because of safety concerns.

The project will cost roughly $800,000 and is expected to be finished before students return to school in September, Jennings said. He had already included $300,000 for Reiche in next year’s Capital Improvement Project budget that is pending council approval. The remaining cost would be covered by unused CIP funds, he said.

“The feedback I received on the CIP before the Finance Committee was very positive. I hope they will support the recommendations going forward,” Jennings said. “We feel as though there are problems and we want to solve those problems for the security and the safety of the students who are going to the schools.”

The proposal comes a week after a ramp on the Clark Street side of the school was closed due to safety concerns and as parents across the district are mobilizing to convince councilors to upgrade four elementary schools that have not seen a significant investment since they were build 40 to 60 years ago. The parents groups want the council to place a borrowing package on the city ballot in November.

Portland’s elementary school buildings were last studied about five years ago and a series of recommendations were drafted to make each school facility more equitable. The School Board recently directed school staff to update that study, along with its recommendations and cost estimates, which in 2013 neared $50 million.

The city is already in line to receive nearly $30 million in state money to rebuild Hall Elementary School. Those improvements were not part of the $50 million needed to renovate the remaining schools.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who represents the West End, said he was been working with parents and the city manager for the last two months to address some of the most serious issues at Reiche.

“There’s still work to do at Reiche, but these are the big issues I hear from parents on a daily basis,” said Thibodeau, who joined Jennings last week as he toured the school with school maintenance staff. “Our facilities staff have been doing an unbelievable job with the resources they have been given. Finally, thanks to Jon, we are really giving our facilities staff the tools to make the schools succeed.”

The city is responsible for maintaining all city-owned buildings, including the schools.

School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione welcomed the news and directed the superintendent to reach out to the facilities consultant, Oak Point Associates, to make sure that the proposed renovations would be considered in its revised set of recommendations that will be presented to the board’s Operations Committee on Feb. 29.

“I’m very happy to know the city found additional funds to put toward our schools,” Morrione said. “Some of these things have been in the CIP for years to be addressed.”

West End resident and Reiche parent Joanna Frankel, who addressed the council last month about school facility issues, said she was pleased the city was moving forward with some repairs, but that parents citywide remain focused on a November bond.

“I’m so glad it’s happening — it’s a great first step,” she said.

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