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Marysville School replacement plans on hold

Nearly two years after Marysville School was damaged by fire, Portland Public Schools has spent the insurance money and has no immediate plans to rebuild the neighborhood school.

Since voters did not approve the school modernization bond in May that would have spent $21 million to rebuild Marysville as a 21st Century school, the building languishes - fenced off and boarded up.

Meanwhile, when school starts again this fall, the students of Southeast Portland who normally would have attended the school will hop on a school bus and ride 45 minutes across town to their adopted school, Rose City Park in Northeast Portland.

Student enrollment since the fire has dropped off; the school is expecting 389 students this fall, compared to 435 in 2009. Community members are growing increasingly frustrated by the situation.

'As a taxpayer, I'd like to see my money spent wisely,' says Jeff Lovell, a Mt. Tabor resident who works in software quality.

According to district records, PPS has received $3.084 million to date from its insurance company, McLarens Young International, since the November 10, 2009, fire, which was front-page news in THE BEE.

PPS has 'approved expenses of' [i.e. spent] $3.4 million on costs, including moving students, staff and materials to Rose City Park; replacing classroom supplies and curriculum; paying personal property claims; covering student transportation to Rose City Park; temporarily stabilizing the Marysville building; and future building designs.

That puts the district in the hole by $316,000, with more expenses lined up for this school year - namely, transporting students back and forth by school bus.

The design work for the new school is on hold, after the school board in April hired DLR Group - an architecture and engineering firm - to begin the process. Lovell says he cautioned the board at the time against taking the action.

'Some people call it putting the cart before the horse; I call it gambling,' Lovell says, noting that while he doesn't have kids, his wife is a teacher, and he's deeply invested in education issues. Some of the district's public information doesn't reflect the new reality. On Marysville's online school enrollment and data form, for example, the notes read: 'Pending voter authorization of the bond in May, work to rebuild the Marysville School will begin this summer, with a target move-in date of the 2012 school year.'

Lovell says he did not support the recent bond measure because he thought it was too large, and was also concerned with the speed at which the teachers' union contract was approved.

District leaders have already pledged to return soon with another bond measure proposal, which would again prioritize Marysville for a rebuild.

To gain public support a future bond measure, Lovell says, the district should be 'gaining our trust by showing us they're doing the right thing.'

In June, Lovell wrote to the district with questions about Marysville's finances - as did at least one other citizen. In a reply, Dan Jung, Capital Project Manager for the district's Office of School Modernization, said the school was covered by an insurance policy that had a $1 million deductible. The insurance company also would only pay to rebuild the damaged portion of the building to its pre-fire condition, he wrote.

'Like many Portland schools, Marysville is an aging building (originally constructed in 1921) that has not received significant updates in recent months,' Jung wrote. 'There are numerous options being analyzed, ranging from simple replacement of the burned portion to a full modernization of the school.'

Because the district's bond did not pass, Jung wrote, the Marysville property would simply be maintained while officials continue to evaluate their rebuilding options. And the kids will continue to be bused north to Rose City Park School until further notice.