School leaders are continuing to work on finalizing plans to renovate Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche schools with the hope of putting the project out to bid this fall. File photo

PORTLAND — It is too early to tell how the coronavirus pandemic will impact Portland Public Schools’ plans to reconstruct and rehabilitate four of its elementary schools, but school leaders still hope to put the projects at Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche schools out to bid later this year.

Voters in 2017 approved a $64 million bond to renovate four schools, but in February, it was announced that an additional $41 million is needed to complete the work as planned. The construction project at Lyseth Elementary School is underway and is expected to be completed by 2021. The projects at the three other schools, yet to be started, have been scaled down so their projected costs remain in budget.

Lisa Sawin, a principal and architect with Harriman, the architectural and engineering firm the school district hired for the projects, said the costs associated with the projects “are predictions for when we anticipate starting construction and completing construction.”

Portland Board of Education member Adam Burk fears the current economic climate might make those cost estimates moot.

“Doesn’t it seem folly to be building our expectations on historically high construction rates that have pushed us to the position we are in, when we are on the cliff of a recession like we’ve never seen in a generation or more?” Burk asked, referring to the economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic.

Sawin said that impact won’t be known for a while and the best course of action at this point is to proceed with the project design.

“It’s hard to say (what will happen with construction rates), so we have to take the historic information to proceed and be nimble as we proceed through this process,” Sawin said.

Sawin said Harriman is proceeding with all its projects and materials are still arriving.

“We haven’t seen a significant impact at this time,” she said.

The emergency order the City Council passed March 30 allows construction companies to continue projects underway as long as workers are keeping a proper distance from each other. No new projects are permitted to start during the emergency period, which is set to expire April 27, although the council may choose to extend it.

When emergency measures have lifted and businesses reopen, Harriman principal Mark Lee said there is potential for many construction projects to start all at once because they were all paused at the same time.

There are now two scenarios for the school projects on the table. Superintendent Xavier Botana said the next step is for the building-level building committees to dive into the proposed options. Once that is done, the project design can be finalized. The hope is to do that by this summer. The Board of Education would then review the final plan before drafting up a request for proposals for a contractor this fall.

The current options, Sawin said, were made after soliciting feedback from the district building committee and staff at Longfellow, Presumpsoct and Reiche. One option, which is projected to cost $48 million, would include life safety and code upgrades and new secure entrances at the three schools, as well as:

  • removing asbestos/renovating existing classrooms, adding an elevator and new electrical infrastructure, and constructing new bathrooms and renovating existing ones to be ADA compliant at Longfellow;
  • adding a new classroom addition to replace modulars and constructing a new cafeteria and warming kitchen at Presumpscot;
  • building walls and renovating classrooms at Reiche.

The other option, which is projected to cost $62 million, would include the aforementioned work at Presumpscot and Reiche, but instead of abatement/renovation of classrooms at Longfellow, would include the addition of a cafeteria and renovation of program spaces for special services.

Emily Figdor, a member of both the Board of Education and district building committee, said she was “really excited to get to this point after a lot of hard work in rethinking these projects.”

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