Portland’s Green New Deal could add $2.5 million to the cost of renovating the Reiche Community School, although the school could be exempt from the requirements of the ordinance. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Green New Deal for Portland approved by voters this month could add as much as $6 million to three city school renovation projects already reduced in scope because of elevated construction costs.

The new costs would come largely from a requirement in the ordinance that projects must exceed the energy-efficiency standards currently spelled out in city building codes. School district officials must first determine, however, whether the square footage of the projects at Reiche, Longfellow and Presumpscot elementary schools surpass a threshold that triggers the requirements.

If they do, the Green New Deal could add $2 million to the Longfellow project, $1.5 million at Presumpscot and $2.5 million at Reiche. The total combined budget for the three projects is currently $48 million. All three were approved as part of a $64.3 million, four-school bond approved by voters in 2017 that also included Harrison Lyseth Elementary School, where renovations started in 2019 and are largely complete.

Last month, the district reduced the scope of the renovations and has been unable to make all the efficiency and system upgrades that were in the original plans because of rising construction costs that would have put them $41 million over budget.

The Green New Deal for Portland was approved by 59 percent of voters Nov. 3 and includes changes to the city’s green building codes, labor rules for city-funded projects and requirements for more affordable housing units in certain developments. Most city councilors and the mayor opposed the referendum, along with several nonprofit housing providers and developers. Two groups that are looking at building affordable housing in the Libbytown neighborhood said last week they are moving ahead with their project proposals but also anticipate financial impacts.

The new requirements state that all new construction or renovation projects to be owned or operated by the city that are 5,000 square feet or greater must comply with the higher energy efficiency standards. However, at a District Advisory Building Committee meeting last week, Mark Lee of Harriman Associates, the architect for the school projects, said it’s unclear whether the 5,000-square-foot threshold applies to the total square footage of the existing building and the renovation or just the renovation.

If it applies to just the renovations, it’s also unclear whether the energy upgrades must then be made to just the renovations or to existing areas as well.

Under one scenario – the ordinance applies to 5,000 square feet of renovations and the upgrades must be made throughout the building – Reiche would be exempt and the added costs of the Green New Deal would be reduced to $3.5 million for Longfellow and Presumpscot.

The Green New Deal could add $1.5 million to the cost of the Presumpscot Elementary School project. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

If energy upgrades only need to be made in the new areas at Longfellow and Presumpscot, which are over 5,000 square feet, the additional costs would not be significant, Lee said. The $6 million figure would come from energy upgrades in both new and existing areas of all three schools.

Aga Dixon, an attorney for Drummond Woodsum, the school district’s legal counsel, said at the meeting last week that whatever scenario is applicable will depend on how the city interprets the ordinance.

“We can and we will make an argument that a reasonable interpretation is only to apply that to the new additions,” she said. “I think that’s a reasonable interpretation. But if historically the city has interpreted that differently, it will be quite challenging to overcome that barrier.”

Jessica Grondin, director of communications for the city, said in an email that staff are still analyzing the impact of the referendum and providing guidance to the City Council. As soon as guidance is ready, Grondin said it will be shared with the public.

Dixon also questioned the legal validity of language in the referendum referencing the “most recently published” energy efficiency standards established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, saying that typically an ordinance would be more clear about which version of a standard is to be adopted.

Renovating the Longfellow Elementary School could cost an additional $2 million under Portland’s Green New Deal. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Working through the details of the ordinance and how it will impact the projects also is likely to delay the schedule. The district had been planning to put at least one of the projects out to bid next month, but that will now be pushed back at least several weeks, Lee said.

Superintendent Xavier Botana said at last week’s meeting that the district had asked the city to expedite the permitting process so the projects can get approved before the ordinance is scheduled to take effect in early December. It is unlikely that will happen.

The Green New Deal also includes labor requirements for contractors, including that they hire a certain percentage of their workforce as apprentices, that employees undergo OSHA training and that wage rates comply with state and local fair wage rates. While the apprenticeship requirement could limit contractors who want to bid on the projects, Botana said he does not anticipate significant cost impacts from the other labor requirements.

“We did talk about (the labor requirements) but it’s not something that’s part of a $6 million cost,” he said.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.