On Tuesday, Portland voters will take to the polls to decide if they want to approve a $29.7 million rebuild of the Fred P. Hall School — a six-decade-old facility that was considered in desperate need of upgrades even before a fire badly damaged it four years ago.
The Hall School project is being proposed under the state’s longstanding, but somewhat intermittent, school construction program. As such, all but $1.4 million of that work would be paid for by the state. Given the condition of the building and the relatively small local contribution to the project, Tuesday’s vote is not considered a controversial one.
If approved, the new Hall School would be scheduled to open by the fall of 2018.
But Hall School’s not the only one in the city that’s in need of capital investment. Architecture consultant Oak Point Associates, which offered the first comprehensive review of Hall’s structural needs in 2012 in a report that has since been updated, identified significant projects the city should consider at other local schools as well.
“Four other elementary schools in Portland — Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot, and Reiche –are crumbling and need major renovations after decades of neglect,” said Jeanne Swinton of the group Protect Our Neighborhood Schools in a statement “The problems at the schools include major security risks, fire safety concerns, trailers being used as classrooms, ADA non-compliance, constant leaks, and more.”
Based on the original Oak Point estimates, it would cost more than $51 million total to renovate the next four schools on the list, with momentum coming and going over the years behind an eventual bond to cover those projects. The most recent Oak Point report included an escalation calendar which estimated those costs have probably grown to more than $70 million in the two-plus years since the first set of numbers came out.
“Everybody agrees a number of our elementary schools are not where they need to be in order to provide an equal education to all of our kids,” Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said. “How do we find the resources to make that happen?”
Kate Snyder, now the executive director of the Portland Education Foundation, was the chairwoman of the city’s school board when the original Oak Point report was released.
“If you have kids in trailers who have to leave those buildings in order to get to a bathroom, there’s something wrong with that,” she said. “And I think even the most skeptical people among us, if they walked through some of those spaces, would see these aren’t great environments for learning. Some of these [modular classrooms] were built as one-year fixes and have been out there for a dozen years.”
Here are the four schools, besides Hall, that still need attention, as well as some of the details found in Oak Point’s research:
Longfellow Elementary School
- Where: 432 Stevens Ave.
- Current capacity: 396
- Projected enrollment, 2018-2019: Between 394-446
- What it needs: Larger music rooms; separation of gymnasium and cafeteria; a centralized library; more accessible entrances; mitigation of bus/car traffic conflicts in the parking lot; work rooms for staff; more centrally located special education spaces
- Cost: $11.3 million
- Read more: Maine author presents book on welcoming new faces at Longfellow
Harrison Lyseth Elementary School
- Where: 175 Auburn St.
- Current capacity: 508
- Projected enrollment, 2018-2019: Between 415-470
- What it needs: Improvement of stormwater drainage; elimination of modular classrooms; better safety and efficiency of traffic flow; separation of gymnasium and cafeteria; more centrally located special education spaces
- Cost: $15.3 million
- Read more: Portland hires teacher from Pamplona to launch state’s first public Spanish language immersion program at Lyseth
Presumpscot Elementary School
- Where: 69 Presumpscot St.
- Current capacity: 315
- Projected enrollment, 2018-2019: Between 241-273
- What it needs: Elimination of portable classrooms; separation of gymnasium and cafeteria; additional staff bathrooms and work spaces; more storage; location of centralized special education spaces near the populations they serve
- Cost: $12.3 million
- Read more: Presumpscot named “high performance school” despite poverty increase
Howard C. Reiche Community School
- Where: 166 Brackett St.
- Current capacity: 373
- Projected enrollment, 2018-2019: Between 450-509
- What it needs: More capacity, but smaller classroom sizes; improved lighting, acoustics and ventilation; separate community center and school functions better; less pavement on the playground area
- Cost: $12.2 million
- Read more: Reiche bucks enrollment trends, faces overcrowding