Meetings give public a chance to discuss committee's proposal

A year after the Portland Public Schools $548 million school modernization bond measure narrowly failed at the ballot box, the district is now ready to try again.

A 32-person committee of parents, teachers, architects, engineers and district, business and elected leaders has met since December to develop a long-term facilities plan for PPS - a road map to upgrading the district's aging buildings.

The committee's draft plan, released Monday, recommends a 'bold' bond scenario for the district, a complete renovation/replacement plan during the next 24 years with a price tag of a cool $1.1 billion, at a tax rate of about $2.40 per $1,000 of assessed value.

• Click here to read a draft of the committee's report (beware: it is a large document).

According to the committee's recommendation: 'The plan should inspire the public to rally behind the district while maximizing student success. Use a strategic approach that fully renovates/replaces schools. Use the bulk of the money from each capital phase to modernize schools. Demonstrate that PPS can do the work successfully. The first phase of the master plan is critical in building public trust. It is needed to build credibility. Allocate some money to fix the worst facility needs. This needs to occur in each phase. These funds would focus on fixing the building shell first to minimize further building deterioration.'

At the same time, the committee offered three other scenarios for potential bond size: a 'balanced' approach, which is an $880 million complete renovation/replacement in 32 years (tax rate of $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed value); a 'conservative' approach of $575 million in complete renovation/replacement in 32 years ($1.08 per $1,000 of assessed value); and a 'repair and renew' approach of $780 million in most-needed improvements first, spread across 40 years ($1.76 per $1,000 of assessed value).

The district will take public comment at three meetings this month on three main questions: whether the district should consider putting a school construction bond before voters, what kinds of building improvements they want to see in schools, and which schools should be upgraded.

The school board meets in June to consider the feedback, along with the committee's recommendations, and determine next steps.

Holding 'swing space'

Several issues plagued the May 2011 bond measure. Some complained there wasn't enough public process. Others weren't sure why some schools were included and others were not. The only group to form in opposition, 'Learn Now, Build Later,' charged that the district should be addressing imbalances in the K-8 schools and problems before fixing the buildings.

Most, however, said the bond was simply too large and expensive, at a time when the economy was barely recovering.

All but two of the district's schools - of its 28 elementary, 30 preK-8, 10 middle schools, nine high schools, and 11 focus- or community-based schools - were built before 1975. The average PPS building is 65 years old.

Due to decades of a lack of stable capital funding for facilities, PPS has a $1.6 billion backlog of deferred maintenance. District leaders say that's created classroom and other learning environments with inadequate airflow and temperature control; leaky roofs; noisy and archaic mechanical and plumbing systems; and inadequate electrical systems to support today's technology.

Many wonder about enrollment projections. District leaders say the most likely scenario shows medium growth - an increase of 2,871 students in the next nine years, to reach a district enrollment of 50,159. The highest growth is expected in the Cleveland and Lincoln clusters.

Many also wonder about what the district is doing with its shuttered properties including the Marshall Campus, which closed last year.

In recent years, PPS has been saying they're holding all former school buildings as 'swing space,' to temporarily house students during future school renovations. The new facilities plan abandons that term in favor of a more formal one: 'interim relocation sites.'

That inventory includes five administrative sites, four of which PPS says could be used as schools.

There are nine facilities that are closed, eight of which could be used as schools. Of the nine, four are being actively marketed, three are interim location sites and two are leased to other entities outside PPS. The vacant and leased sites would also be able to accommodate increases in enrollment over the next 10 years.

The public meetings are:

• Tuesday, May 22 - Roosevelt High School Cafeteria, 6941 N. Central St.

• Wednesday, May 23 - Madison High School Cafeteria, 2735 N.E. 82nd Ave.

• Thursday, May 24 - Lincoln High School Cafeteria, 1600 S.W. Salmon St.

Each meeting will start with an open house from 5 to 6 p.m. followed by a presentation and discussion from 6 to 8 p.m.

The district will provide free child care and interpretation services in Spanish, Somali, Chinese, Vietnamese and Russian.

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