The vacant Mahoney Middle School property at Broadway and Ocean Street could be used for a wide variety of purposes, South Portland residents say. The City Council will hear more from the public about potential uses next month. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

Affordable housing, a new city hall, a cultural arts center and a police station are among residents’ ideas for uses for the Mahoney Middle School property in South Portland.

Proposals for the city-owned site left vacant after the opening of the consolidated middle school last fall were discussed last week at a City Council workshop. The discussion drew a big turnout, with over 35 community members telling the council how they think the site should be repurposed.

Using the property for housing and consolidating all city offices at the building were the two most prevalent ideas.

Citing the area’s lack of affordable housing, resident Alex Redfield noted Mahoney’s proximity to the Greenbelt, the Casco Bay Bridge and Knightville, which is “growing as a mixed-use and walkable destination.”

“There are some uses, housing in particular, which can benefit from those,” he said.

Donald Cook said he supports consolidating all city services at the building and building affordable housing on the city-owned parcels that would be vacant as a result.


“Growing up in Redbank, I realize, I know what it costs and the advantages of having people in affordable housing, but that building’s not it,” Cook said. “That building is a solution to get the whole city government together.”

Some residents said the building could be used for multiple, shared purposes, including as a community gathering space. Sam Rinaldi, Portland Players’ board president, suggested it become the home of a cultural arts center. That would give the Cottage Road theater group space to hold workshops and afterschool programs and build and store big set pieces for performances, he said.

A handful of residents spoke in support of a suggestion from a recent independent facilities assessment report to use the building for a new City Hall to get all city departments under one roof and to build a police station on the playing fields next to it.

Police Chief Daniel Ahern told the council, however, that locating his department next to City Hall and close to residences would not be ideal for “a 21st-century police facility.”

“The security measures we would need – including a jail, which you’d need to build within this new facility – would not be conducive to being next to or adjacent to, say, the Clerk’s Office, the finance department,” Ahern said at the workshop. “We need secure facilities for evidence, for vehicles that may be involved in crimes, we need outdoor secure buildings for storage and large vehicles … If you’re looking at upgrading and updating the law enforcement’s abilities in the facility, to provide professional police services in South Portland, you’re looking at a separate building.”

Jana Grant, president of South Portland Little League and safety officer of SoPo Hoops and South Portland Youth Football, said the city shouldn’t build on the baseball and soccer fields adjacent to the school unless others are built in the city because youth sports programs don’t have enough recreational space.


“In fact, South Portland Little League is looking at renting space in Portland this year,” Grant said. “SoPo Hoops, last year, had to rent space in Portland and Saco.” This year, she said, the basketball program was able to use the Mahoney gym.

Councilor Linda Cohen said she has “done a 180-degree turn” on the Mahoney dilemma.

“From the very, very beginning, I thought we needed to sell Mahoney to the highest bidder and get something in there that was going to go on the tax roll,” Cohen said. “The more I’ve listened to and seen our building conditions, the more I have now come around to believing it is the right thing to do to put all of our city services in that building.” Property vacated by city offices not currently at City Hall could be used for housing, she said.

Councilor Steven Riley said he was hesitant to make any decisions without knowing the associated costs to taxpayers for some of the ideas.

“I want to see what our options are,” Riley said. “I’d love to hear more about what South Portland Housing Authority has in mind, I’d like to see some (requests for proposals) out there for the development community just so, as a council, we have something to compare all the work that was done by the facilities committee to.”

Mayor Misha Pride urged city staff and councilors to review the recording of the workshop because such a wide range of ideas was suggested. Councilor Richard Matthews agreed, saying he’d also like to “dive deeper” into the facilities report with residents’ thoughts in mind.

The City Council will continue its discussion on Mahoney Middle School on April 16, when residents may again provide input. The council will also receive a presentation from the South Portland Housing Authority at that meeting on the possibility of building affordable housing on city-owned land, such as Mahoney and the current City Hall property.

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