PORTLAND — Lyseth Elementary School is the latest city project to get a harsh math lesson.

Members of a district-wide building committee and the Lyseth building committee will meet at the school, 175 Auburn St., at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 25, to discuss how to move forward after two bids for the school’s renovation were at least $2.8 million higher than the $11.7 million estimate for renovations and expansion.

“It is a conundrum for sure, obviously we have ‘X’ amount of dollars and four schools to renovate,” School Board member Sarah Thompson said Monday.

The bids were opened April 16 at City Hall. On Tuesday, April 23, the Planning Board was set to vote on the site plan for the work. 

Jim Lobley of the city purchasing office said Ducas Construction bid $14.7 million, while Hardypond Construction bid $14.5 million.

The School Board “Buildings for Our Future” initiative pegged the total cost of Lyseth work at $15 million, which included the “soft costs” of design, permitting and consultant work. A Feb. 21 School Board presentation by Harriman Architects estimated construction costs alone at $11.7 million.

School Superintendent Xavier Botana on Monday said the options are moving ahead with one of the higher bids; paring back, but not so much that the work would have to be sent out for new bids, or making substantial changes that would require new bids.

“There is a scope we are trying to meet, and the scope of the Lyseth project is significantly different from what we originally envisioned,” Botana said, adding the site plan review should not be affected. 

Late last year, as Harriman moved ahead on the final design, a school bus loop and some planned parking were removed from the plan. Expansion is proposed to add an 11,000-square-foot gymnasium and 3,400 square feet of office space to the 50,000-square-foot school.

“I’m not sure we can pare down any more, it is not like we are renovating even into the side house of the Taj Mahal,” Thompson said. “We are trying to get things up to the 21st-century learning.”

The Lyseth project is one of four school projects planned over the next five years, funded by a $64.4 million bond approved by voters in November 2017. Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools are also slated for improvements and expansions.

Thompson said the conundrum lies in the potential effects of other school work if the committees move ahead on the work.

If costs continue to escalate, she said, it is possible the School Board might have to return to the City Council or voters to fund its commitment to renovating the four elementary schools.

Closing other schools is not an option because the recent facilities study shows city elementary schools are at 80% capacity.

Thompson noted voters passed a bond that was reduced from the $70 million first sought by the School Department in the summer of 2016.

Bids exceeding estimates for construction work are common in the city this year. Four sewer separation projects planned to help comply with a state and federal mandate to reduce wastewater flow into Casco Bay also drew bids above city cost estimates.

Earlier this month, Public Works Director Chris Branch said two of the projects will go back out for bids this fall. Bids for the planned stormwater storage facility near Back Cove were not even opened; they were expected to be as much as twice the $23.55 million estimate.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The estimate to repair and expand Portland’s Lyseth Elementary School was $11.7 million. The low bid for the work is $14.5 million.

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