The discovery of mold in a hallway at Longfellow Elementary School has galvanized supporters of two different plans to fix Portland’s aging elementary schools.

Portland voters will decide next month how they want to fund renovations for as many as four elementary schools — Longfellow, Reiche, Lyseth and Presumpscot. One option on the Nov. 7 ballot is a $64 million bond to renovate all four schools. Another option is a $32 million bond to renovate only the Presumpscot and Lyseth schools as Portland officials pursue state funding to rebuild Reiche and Longfellow. Residents may vote yes or no on either question. If both receive a majority, the question with the most votes will be enacted.

Parents noticed the discolored area in a corridor ceiling Oct. 3 while they were at Longfellow for a PTO meeting.

One of the people in attendance was Emily Figdor, the director of Protect Our Neighborhood Schools, a political action committee looking to pass the four-school bond. Figdor said the parents took photos of the spot and shared them with school officials.

“The superintendent and principal have both been in touch with us quite a bit and I know are doing everything they can to investigate the situation and figure out what the risk is,” Figdor said.

Superintendent Xavier Botana notified parents of the mold Friday.

In his letter, Botana told them the facilities team inspected the ceiling and determined the discolored spot is likely to be mold. A roofing contractor assessed the roof and fixed a leak that could have exacerbated the problem.

Air quality testing also took place on Monday to make sure the level of mold in the air is within acceptable levels. The results will be available within a week to 12 days. Mold can cause allergies and trigger coughing, wheezing and nasal stuffiness.

“We do not believe it is a hazard to students or staff,” Botana wrote.

“It appears to be well contained in the ceiling. There is no evidence of cracking or sagging which would release it airborne.”

On Wednesday morning, representatives of Protect Our Neighborhood Schools hosted a news conference outside Longfellow.

The speakers included Figdor, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and two local parents. They argued the mold is another example of the need to renovate all four schools as soon as possible, rather than wait for state funding that might not materialize.

Stephanie O’Brien, a nurse at Maine Medical Center and a Reiche parent, said the effects of airborne mold could be exacerbated by poor air circulation in the school and windows that don’t open.

“We cannot continue to put our children’s health and safety at risk in the old rundown school buildings,” O’Brien said. “It’s long past due for Portland to step up and finally fix its four rundown elementary schools.”

Better Schools, Better Deal – the political action committee supporting the $32 million bond option to renovate two schools – also released a statement Wednesday about the mold.

Treasurer Dory-Anna Waxman said the mold highlights the need for new schools, not just renovations.

“You can’t always renovate your way out of problems like mold, which is exactly why we need to be pursuing every opportunity to build new, state of the art schools at Longfellow and Reiche,” Waxman said. “New schools will ensure all of our students are safe and in the best possible environment for learning.”

Longfellow Principal Terry Young deferred all questions to the superintendent’s office Wednesday. Botana did not immediately return requests for comment.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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