Event launches public input phase of ambitious Portland school overhaul plan

Reiche School, 166 Brackett St., Portland (BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Tonight at 6 p.m., the Reiche School Parent Teacher Organization and West End Neighborhood Association are hosting a “design charette” to gather public input on the future of the neighborhood school building and community center.

(More on what a design charette is in a moment.)

This begins in earnest the public brainstorming phase of a massive facilities overhaul plan the Portland Public Schools unveiled about two months ago. An excerpt from our story at the time:

Portland Public Schools officials announced Tuesday the hiring of the Biddeford-based architecture and engineering firm Oak Point Associates to develop site plans, construction schedules and costs for an ambitious bundle of projects aimed at reinventing half of the city’s 10 elementary schools.

The overhaul plan would include the outright replacement of the 56-year-old Fred P. Hall Elementary School, which was considered to be in poor condition even before a September fire that closed the facility for three weeks, and renovations or expansions of Lyseth, Reiche, Longfellow and Presumpscot elementary schools.

The new, or largely new, school buildings would join a stable of schools that already includes two that were constructed within the last six years — the East End Community School and Ocean Avenue Elementary School – with state funding through its new school construction program.

The very early estimate on the overall price tag to accomplish all that work is around $46 million, an amount the district is considering raising through a bond put before voters at some point in 2013 — probably November.

Longfellow Elementary School, Portland (BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Tonight at Reiche, members of the public will get a chance to weigh in on how that particular facility will be best renovated, a process that will be repeated at Lyseth, Hall and Presumpscot. (One already was scheduled to have taken place at Longfellow.)

Exercises like this aim to make sure that, when residents are lining up to vote on whether or not to approve funding for the projects, they don’t feel like they were left out of the planning for how their tax dollars would be spent.

Design charettes vary somewhat depending on who is organizing them, but in general, they involve participants being broken up into smaller groups, answering specific questions about the topic at hand, then reconvening and sharing answers to find common ground and, in theory, using the most overlapping and universal values shared to inform future planning. Sometimes there are artistic renderings or maps the participants use, sometimes there are color-coded stickers used to highlight priorities on big pieces of poster paper, etc.

Here is how the Reiche event is described in a Portland Public Schools announcement:

At the charrette, staff will give an overview of the Buildings for Our Future project.

Participants will have an opportunity to ask questions, share their ideas and join small group discussions focusing on issues of interest. Topics will include:

  • What are your hopes and dreams for our city and its school system?
  • What types of facilities are needed to educate Portland’s future leaders?
  • How can the building better serve both the school district and the city’s neighborhood?
  • What works well and what improvements would you suggest?

Residents, business owners and other members of the community are invited to participate in this historic opportunity to help plan the next generation of Portland elementary schools.

Oak Point Associates will draw on public input when creating preliminary building and site plans, construction schedules and estimated costs for replacing Hall and improving Presumpscot, Lyseth, Reiche and Longfellow. As part of the Buildings for Our Future project, the firm will evaluate opportunities to balance student numbers across the district in order to address chronic overcrowding at several schools based on their current designs.

If Reiche’s not in your neighborhood, but one of the other schools on the fix-it list are, here’s a schedule of other upcoming design charettes:

  • Jan. 15, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., Lyseth Elementary School gym, 175 Auburn Street.
  • Jan. 17, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., Hall Elementary School gym, 23 Orono Road.
  • Jan. 31, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., Presumpscot Elementary School gym, 69 Presumpscot Street.
Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.