This rendering shows the plan for renovating the entrance to the Longfellow School in Portland. Portland Public Schools

Portland Public Schools is moving ahead with renovations to four elementary schools but they are being scaled back following indications that rising construction costs could make the original plans exceed the district’s budget by $41 million.

Schools across the district are undertaking initiatives to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and the renovations will build on those with features such as upgrades to nurses’ offices and touchless fixtures in restrooms.

But the pandemic could also complicate the projects because it has created uncertainty and driven up materials costs. And a Green New Deal for Portland, a proposal going to voters on Nov. 3, could also have implications because it would hold contractors and the district to stricter energy efficiency and roof requirements.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a $64.3 million bond in 2017 to pay for the “Buildings for our Future” renovations at four of the city’s 10 public elementary schools: Harrison Lyseth, Longfellow, Howard C. Reiche and Presumpscot. However, the district announced in February that because of escalating construction costs the price of completing all four projects as originally envisioned would total $105 million – $41 million over budget.

In an email Tuesday, Superintendent Xavier Botana said the scope of the projects has been changed through work with the District Advisory Building Committee and the individual Building Level Advisory committees at each school.

“The general direction has been to prioritize the educational program as we reduced scope,” Botana said. “The scope that we are currently proposing is within budget and meets the original intent of the bond, which was to bring increased parity to our elementary schools.”


He said the district had to cut back on the extent of renovations in classrooms and also won’t be able to make all the efficiency and system upgrades called for in the original plans. In addition, both Longfellow and Presumpscot will get new cafeterias rather than new gyms.

The district will hold community Zoom forums on the projects at Presumpscot, Longfellow and Reiche elementary schools Wednesday starting at 5:30 p.m. for Longfellow, 6:45 p.m. for Reiche and 8 p.m. for Presumpscot. Proposals for all three schools are scheduled to go out for bids this winter, with construction scheduled to start in the spring.

Construction at Lyseth, which started in May 2019, is about 75 percent done and scheduled to be completed by the end of September 2021. That project includes improvements to the nurse’s office, a new administrative addition and renovations of the lobby, cafeteria and some classrooms.

According to documents for Wednesday’s forums, the highest priority needs at Presumpscot include replacing modular classrooms, a separate gym and cafeteria, separate music and art rooms, separate rooms for specialists, and code and accessibility upgrades.

The highest priorities for Reiche include enclosing classrooms, a secure and accessible entrance, and code and accessibility upgrades. At Longfellow, classroom upgrades and abatement, a secure and accessible entrance, an elevator and code and accessibility upgrades are the top priorities.

Improvements at all three of those schools will also include new nurses’ offices with physical isolation space and touchless fixtures in new or renovated restrooms in response to the pandemic.

In Maine, the construction industry has remained relatively strong during the economic downturn, but the unpredictability of the pandemic adds uncertainty to project development and construction.

Lumber prices have soared, and the construction workforce is stretched thin, leading to higher wages that can drive up project costs.

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