Four of Portland’s elementary schools are in such bad shape that the school board agreed Tuesday to ask the City Council to propose a $70 million bond to voters in November to pay for improvements.

“Asking for $70 million, yes, it’s a lot to ask for,” said board member Sarah Thompson. “We owe it, I think, to our next generation of Portlanders to have state-of-the-art facilities.”

The board plans a first reading on the proposed recommendation June 7, then hold another public hearing and final vote on June 21. The City Council will decide whether to put the bond on the ballot.

All of the board members spoke in favor of the proposed bond.

“There’s been a lot of deliberation for far too long, and the urgency is great,” said board member John Eder.

“It is time for us as a community to give our children what they deserve,” said Pious Ali.

The most recent “Buildings for Our Future” report, from the Oak Point Associates architecture and engineering firm, spells out $70 million in possible upgrades at Presumpscot, Longfellow, Lyseth and Reiche elementary schools.

A group of Portland parents known as Protect Our Neighborhood Schools has been advocating for a borrowing package to pay for the renovations. The four schools have not had significant investments since they were built 40 to 60 years ago.

At a public hearing on Tuesday night, a string of parents got up to thank the board for supporting the full $70 million in recommended fixes.

“A lot of parents have been waiting a long time for this,” said Jess Marino, who has three children in the district. “I am so happy that this is happening. I am so proud of our city right now.”

Many noted that the money would be spent on practical fixes, like installing functional heating and windows that open, eliminating trailers for classrooms and easing severe overcrowding. At one school, the social worker is in a windowless closet.

“We have a gym-a-cafe-torium at Lyseth,” Principal Lenore Williams told the board, explaining that the gym is also used as a cafeteria and auditorium. “We can’t convene the students without being in violation of fire codes.”

“We’re not talking about theme parks and roller coasters,” parent Ben Allen said of the $70 million recommendation. “We’re talking about pretty basic stuff.”

Steven Scharf, a Portland resident who is a regular City Hall observer, said he opposes the borrowing.

“I think $70 million is far too much to be spending on schools and I think you’ll have difficulty getting this passed,” he said.

Generally speaking, municipal borrowing packages are paid off over decades. The exact terms would be decided before the vote.

After the parents’ group raised concerns in January, the city immediately initiated $800,000 in repairs at Reiche to address safety issues.

In April, Portland voters approved a plan to pay for a new Hall Elementary School. The state will pay for almost all of the $29.7 million project, with Portland taxpayers picking up $1.4 million for specific upgrades such as a larger gym that can serve as a community center.

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


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: