After the Portland City Council balked at a proposed $70.6 million price tag for renovations at four elementary schools — and the tax hikes it would take to pay for them — the head of the school board suggested that the state could soon turn on the money faucet to fund them.
“The indication from the state is that by the fall they will reopen application to get on the list,” Marnie Morrione said Wednesday, in reference to the docket of projects awaiting funding from Maine’s Major Capital School Construction Program, which will fund nearly the entire cost of rebuilding Hall Elementary School.
The next day, the state did announce it would have funding available for fixing up some schools — but it’s pocket change compared to the kind of work that experts say the schools need.
The Department of Education opened applications Thursday for the School Revolving Renovation Fund, a loan program to help school districts pay for urgent repairs that cost no more than $1 million. The state is making available $10 million in total funds, which are aimed at pressing projects such as removing asbestos, patching holes in roofs and ensuring that facilities are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a Department of Education official said.
In other words, it’s a far cry form the kind of cash that paid for 95 percent of the $29.7 million renovations to Hall Elementary that Portland voters approved in April.
Portland could qualify for a couple of these loans, which come with zero percent interest and are often forgiven in part by the state. Reiche Elementary School needs a new roof and Longfellow Elementary School has asbestos and isn’t compliant with the ADA, according an evaluation of the schools done by Oak Point Associates architecture firm.
Longfellow is also on Maine’s list for major renovation funding, but it’s far enough down that school board members and city councilors think it’s unlikely to be funded anytime soon. But Presumpscot and Lyseth aren’t on the list, and the Department of Education isn’t saying publicly that it will soon be taking new applications for major construction projects.
“We’re working off the list that’s been in place since 2011 and there is no timeline set for the new list,” said Scott Brown, director of facilities, safety and transportation.