The rear entrance of Longfellow Elementary School, one of four Portland elementary schools where scheduled renovations have been scaled back after unanticipated construction costs left a $41 million gap in funding. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)
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Plans to renovate Longfellow, Presumpscot, and Reiche elementary schools have been cut back after ballooning construction costs left the Portland Public Schools short of money to complete the projects.

The School Department’s Building Level Advisory Committee discussed the abbreviated construction plans at its Sept. 24 meeting. 

Voters approved a $64 million bond in November 2017 for an expansive renovation of the three schools, as well as Lyseth Elementary School, where construction began in June 2019. But higher-than-expected costs left a $41 million funding gap for the renovations package. 

Harriman & Associates, an Auburn-based architecture firm hired by the School Board earlier this year, determined the renovations would cost $105 million. 

The work on the three schools is scheduled to go out to bid this November. A community forum, the third since funding was approved for the project, is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 21.

Construction planned at Presumpscot Elementary School in Portland will be the quickest of three planned renovation projects, beginning in summer 2021 and ending in fall 2022. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)

In February, the BLAC determined improvements could still be made at Longfellow, Presumpscot, and Reiche without asking voters for more money. It decided to use the funds available to tackle the biggest problems affecting learning and safety at the three schools.

Subcontractor bids for the Lyseth work came in $2 million over budget and made it clear the planned scope of work would need to be reduced. As a result, a new gym was built, but not to high energy-efficient specifications; plans to replace the exterior of the building, the ventilation system, and driveways were killed.

In February, Lisa Sawin of Harriman & Associates told the District Building Advisory Committee the increased construction costs resulted from unanticipated inflation in the construction industry, delays in getting the funding request to a referendum, and costs not accounted for in original estimates. 

The construction budget for Longfellow now totals $14 million with $10.5 million to be spent on construction. Presumpscot’s total budget is $13 million, with $9.75 million allocated for construction, and Reiche has a total budget of $21 million, with $15.75 million for construction. 

BLAC members were previously asked to prioritize a list of work “scope alternatives,” that will be priced separately by a contractor. According to Sawin, if bidding conditions are “favorable” and the School Department has “additional funds to work with,” some scope items may be added to the project. 

Committee members were polled on scope items including installing new ventilation systems, renovating more minor features in the schools such as hallways and doors, and masonry work on the exterior of the buildings.

It will be up to the DABC and School Board to consider the Building Level Advisory Committee’s recommendations and determine how to allocate additional funds if multiple bids come in under budget for the three schools.

Sawin and Harriman’s Mark Lee presented plans for each of the three schools separately, starting with Longfellow. 

Sawin said the Longfellow renovation will be completed in seven phases planned to begin next summer and end in fall 2023. The work will include building a two-story addition onto the back of the school and installing an elevator, which she said will require “a lot of excavation.”

Since part of the construction will take place while school is in session, Longfellow will be separated into “pods,” or groups of six classrooms to be renovated at a time. Students will learn in outdoor portables when their classrooms are being renovated, and Sawin said construction will be coordinated with school breaks to make the transition from classrooms to portables smoother.

Renovations at Reiche School in Portland are projected to begin next summer and end in fall 2023. Construction will include renovations to classrooms, and a new administrative addition. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)

At Presumpscot, the construction will include two additions: a front administrative area and a large add-on to the back of the school, as well as some interior renovations. The additions will be built simultaneously, which gives the Presumpscot plan the shortest duration of the three school projects. The work will start next summer and is projected to be complete before the start of the 2022-2023 school year. 

The addition to the back of the building will include a new cafeteria and classrooms, which will replace portable classrooms now in use.

Sawin said her group is discussing the best way for students to access portables and avoid construction zones, and that a temporary entrance will be used for students and staff during construction.

She also said the Planning Board will examine any land use issues, such as the right-of-way Presumpscot shares with Portland Trails. 

The renovations at Reiche are scheduled to begin next summer and continue until fall 2023. The construction will include heavy renovations to the existing building, including updating several classrooms, and a new administrative area and conference room.

The project is planned to be complete before the start of the 2023-2024 school year. 

Lee said Harriman is in the process of “zeroing in on specific details” of the Reiche construction, such as working with the school facilities department on the logistics and safety of using portable classrooms.

The next meeting of the BLAC is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 22.

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