How will your Portland school look differently in the coming years? Renovations and redistricting

On Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at Casco Bay High School (Room 250), Oak Point Associates will unveil some preliminary designs for renovations — or in the case of one facility, a replacement — of five of Portland’s schools.

Fred P. Hall School (BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett)

The night will also include a workshop on possible redistricting, something long discussed around the city as some schools are overcrowded and others not, but which has the potential to be a minefield politically.

First, the renovations. You may recall last November Portland Public Schools announced the hiring of the Biddeford-based architecture and consulting firm Oak Point Associates to spearhead this ambitious overhaul project, the breadth of which the city has likely never seen in a concentrated period of time.

Here’s a couple graphs from my story at the time as a refresher:

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.

(You may recall Fred P. Hall School as being the site of a parent demonstration in defense of teachers the day after Gov. LePage announced his statewide school grading system, in which that particular school received an ‘F.’)

The massive renovation/replacement plan is often referred to as having an overall price tag of $46 million, which Portland voters will consider funding with a bond at the polls in November. It’s important to note, however, that the $46 million figure is from a three-year-old working group study and the amount of the proposed bond may differ significantly.

The public will get a first look at what that bond will buy them in terms of new school space Tuesday night.

Perhaps more controversial, however, could be talk of redistricting, the subject of a workshop to be held after the 7 p.m. forum. In Maine’s second largest city, Lewiston, the subject of changing which students attend which schools triggered a firestorm of sorts earlier this year, and Portland officials will likely tread carefully on the topic.

Changing the schools’ respective catchment area borders may be necessary to even out the populations, however. The brand-new Ocean Avenue Elementary School began seeing overcrowding issues less than a year after it opened, for instance, and shifting some families living on the outskirts of its territory to another more-or-less equidistant facility could help ease the burden on Ocean Avenue and boost populations at other less crowded schools.

That’s the theory anyway. Parents of students living on the borderline may not be happy about losing access to the state-of-the-art Ocean Avenue facility in favor of an older building, but perhaps the aforementioned renovation projects will help even out existing infrastructure inequalities.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

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