Lyseth Elementary School will be the first to be upgraded under a multi-year, multi-school, $64 million construction bond approved by Portland voters last fall. The Auburn Street school is considered to the be simplest of the four projects.

Construction could start at Lyseth Elementary School by next February after the school board agreed to make it the first of four elementary schools in the city to undergo renovations.

Also at its April 24 meeting, the school board unanimously renamed Hall Elementary in honor of Amanda C. Rowe, a longtime nurse at the school and nurse coordinator for the Portland Public Schools.

Lyseth is considered to be in the best condition of the schools scheduled for upgrades under a $64 million bond approved by voters last November. But that’s partly why school department staff recommended the multi-year, multi-school process start with the Auburn Street school.

It’s important that “we get off the ground with a project that is successful,” Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana told the school board last week.

He said because Lyseth is the easiest and most straightforward of the construction projects and is also moderately priced, it will lay a strong foundation for the remainder of the work to follow.

City Councilor Justin Costa, co-chairman of the Advisory Building Committee, said last week that “there were a number of reasons” to start with that school.

“While every school had its (advocates) for being first, ultimately the committee unanimously agreed to start with Lyseth” after having an “opportunity to ask a lot of questions,” Costa said.

The budget for the Lyseth project is $15.7 million and includes removing the modular classrooms while adding space for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and gifted and talented classes.

The goal is to also “provide adequate (English Language Learner), speech, art, music, library, nurse’s station and social worker spaces,” according to a memo prepared for the school board by Botana. A new gym, cafeteria and stage are also included.

Botana’s memo said the recommendation to begin with Lyseth was “based on a variety of relevant criteria (including) the added square footage, the number of students impacted, the cost of the project, the quality of the current building for 21st Century learning (and) the relative ease of construction,” among others.

“Applying numerical values to these criteria,” Botana said, “Lyseth scored slightly higher than the other projects.” The “most significant reason” for proceeding with Lyseth “as the inaugural project is the relative ease of construction for the project and its size and scope.”

The other three schools approved under the school construction bond are Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche. Botana said the order of the remaining projects “is to be determined later.”

Friends and family of Rowe, who died in 2013 from breast cancer, said last week that naming Hall School after her would be a fitting tribute to someone who “always went above and beyond to make the world a slightly better place,” according to her daughter, Lindsay.

In encouraging the board to rename Hall School for his wife, Steve Rowe, a former Maine attorney general, said while he’s known a lot of people “who are passionately committed to their work, none were more committed than Amanda.” Rowe called his late wife “my mentor and my hero.”

And in reading testimony submitted by her daughter, Mary Anne Lloyd said that Amanda Rowe was “not just a school nurse, but a friend (and) a selfless and kind person.”

Hall was the Deering School District superintendent, a former president of the Portland Teachers Association and head of the history department at Deering High School. The school, originally called Glenwood Square, was named for Hall after his death decades ago.

A new, nearly $30 million school, slated to replace the 62-year-old Hall Elementary, is now under construction and expected to open this fall.

Following the school board meeting, Botana said, “I did not know Amanda Rowe, but I was moved by the testimonials of so many who did. … I think board member (Tim) Atkinson, who also didn’t know her, summed it up best by saying that (Rowe) represented the Portland Promise commitment to achievement, whole student and equity (even) before the promise existed.”

Read the story in The Forecaster here.

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