The Portland Public School system says it would cost $21 million more than city voters approved three years ago to finish four elementary school renovation projects.

In 2017, voters overwhelmingly approved a $64.3 million “Buildings for our Future” bond to pay for renovating four of the city’s 10 public elementary schools: the Harrison Lyseth, Longfellow, Howard C. Reiche and Presumpscot schools.

A competing bond measure calling for borrowing $32 million to renovate only the Lyseth and Presumpscot school was defeated. The smaller bond was supported by residents who favored waiting to see if the state would pay for renovating or replacing the Reiche and Longfellow elementary schools.

Sharp increases in construction cost are being blamed for the funding shortage, according to a statement Tuesday by Portland Public Schools.

Clockwise from upper left, Reiche, Presumpscot, Lyseth and Longfellow schools.

The Lyseth renovations, which were scaled back to meet the projected cost of $17 million, should be finished in 2021.

If work on the three other schools – Longfellow, Reiche and Presumpscot – were scaled back in the same manner as was done for the Lyseth project, the district would still need an additional $21 million to do the work, the statement said.

“Although construction cost increases were built into the initial projections of the four projects, the actual costs in today’s economy far exceed what was projected,” the statement said.

Harriman and Associates, the architectural and engineering firm hired by the Portland Board of Public Education to design the four school projects, informed the district at a Feb. 6 meeting that it would cost an estimated $105 million – $41 million more than approved by voters – to complete the projects as originally planned.

School officials said scaled-back versions of the renovations, consistent with the adjustments made for Lyseth, would still cost $85 million for all four schools, or $21 million more than what voters approved.

The school district said that Lyseth was originally supposed to get a new gymnasium with a stage, a new library and upgrades to the school entrance and administrative space. Those improvements were originally projected to cost $17 million, but now would cost an estimated $23 million.

“That project has been scaled back to come close to the original amount,” school officials said in their statement without providing specifics.

Lyseth has about 500 students in grades K-5 and was built in the 1950s.

It was not clear Tuesday how the school system plans to fund the shortfall, whether with another bond, asking the City Council for additional funding or further reducing the scope of the renovations.

School board Chairman Roberto Rodriguez said the District Advisory Building Committee has been charged with recommending funding options for the remaining three elementary schools.

“Once a recommendation is made to the Board, we will have a public process to take action on how we will move forward,” Rodriguez said in the email.

Funding options will be the topic of a school board workshop on Feb. 25 at Casco Bay High School. No action is expected when the board meets at 6 p.m., but that meeting will be followed by a Feb. 27 meeting of the District Advisory Building Committee.

School Board member Sarah Thompson, who serves as co-chairwoman of the District Advisory Building Committee, said her committee only has the authority to recommend further reductions in design and renovations at the remaining three schools. She said it would left up to the School Board to decide whether to pursue additional funding.

The issue of renovating the four elementary schools has been discussed for more than two decades. The schools have not received significant capital investment since they were built 40 to 65 years ago, and have outdated heating systems and windows, as well as modular classrooms because of overcrowding.


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