Members of the District Advisory Building Committee will be meeting Thursday to discuss ways to pare down the school construction projects at Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche schools, to keep costs under the $64 million voters approved in November 2017. File photo

PORTLAND — In the face of increasing construction costs, school leaders are rethinking how to renovate/rebuild Lyseth, Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools.

In November 2017, voters approved a $64 million bond to renovate the four schools, but 2½ years later, it appears that an additional $41 million is needed to complete the work as planned.

The Portland Board of Education was scheduled to have a workshop to talk about options Tuesday, after the Forecaster’s deadline. The District Advisory Building Committee will meet Thursday to review how to scale back the projects to meet the bond amount.

Harriman, the architecture and engineering firm hired to design the school renovations, estimates the project would now cost $105 million, well over what school leaders had expected.

The advisory committee will look into ways to pare back the plans, said school board member Sarah Thompson, co-chairman of the committee.

The Lyseth project, nearing completion, has already been scaled back. Even if similar changes are made to plans for the other three schools, the cost would drop only to $85 million and more funding would still be needed.

“We are looking at reducing the scope of what we do at each school. That is the place we will begin this process, ” Superintendent Xavier Botana said.

Only if the school board doesn’t like the idea of scaling back would the district then consider not renovating all three of the schools, Botana said.

“Our intent is to focus on looking at what we can do with the money we have at all three schools. We are not considering eliminating a school (from the construction plans) at this time,” Botana said.

The district could also consider asking voters to increase the project’s budget at another referendum, he said.

Each option comes with its advantages or disadvantages. Reducing the construction plans for the three remaining schools, for example, would ensure all three get renovated, but would not do it on a scope that would necessarily meet the original vision.

“Whether we do the remaining three schools or just two schools, we are not fulfilling what was put out to voters,” Thompson said.  “The money would be the same, but the scope of the projects would be far different than what people envisioned they would get.”

The original Lyseth project, which called for a new gym, new cafeteria, new library, security upgrades to the school entrance and other classroom improvements, was projected to cost $17 million. The cost to construct the project as designed is $23 million. The new version of the project does not include interior finish upgrades, door replacements, HVAC and mechanical system improvements, exterior wall upgrades and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, according to information provided by the school district.

Scaling back that project, Botana said, was done through feedback from parents, staff and other community members.

“Everybody in the end up accepting given the rise in construction costs, what was originally envisioned wasn’t feasible. I think the same will play out with the other projects,” he said.

Botana hopes to put the three projects out to bid this fall.

“We hope the meeting with the District Advisory Building Committee will give us a good sense whether paring back the scope to meet the amount of funding available is a viable option,” he said.

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