Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Press Herald

Council ties on plan for Clifford
Later this month, it will reconsider proposals to either renovate the school or build a new one.

By ELBERT AULL Staff Writer October 16, 2007

The Portland City Council deadlocked Monday night on a proposal to abandon Nathan Clifford Elementary School and build a new school elsewhere.

The tie vote serves to prolong the contentious, two-year debate over whether to renovate or replace the century-old facility.

The 4-4 vote occurred nearly two weeks after the Portland School Committee shifted course and recommended replacing Clifford with a new facility, and days after the state's education commissioner came out against a proposed $21 million renovation of Clifford that would get the outdated building up to state standards.

The nine-member council, under its rules on tie votes, will reconsider the issue next month. Councilor Cheryl Leeman did not attend Monday's meeting for health reasons.

Even a "no" vote from the council would not put a stop to the school proposal, which has worked its way through various committees for more than two years.

The Clifford issue needed only School Committee backing to go before the state Board of Education for a vote in the coming months, city officials said. But at least seven city councilors would have to approve financing for the project.

Councilors Ed Suslovic, Kevin Donoghue, David Marshall and Donna Carr voted against replacing the school.

Local leaders, parents and neighborhood residents have debated whether to renovate or replace Clifford since 2005, when the state put the historic building on Falmouth Street at the top of its list of crumbling school facilities that needed to be addressed. That meant state funding would be available to fix or replace the outdated building.

In August, a joint task force of School Committee and council members recommended closing Clifford and replacing it with a new facility that would cost $18 million, about $3 million less than the estimated cost of renovations.

The recommendation roiled some parents and neighborhood residents, who cited the school's location, diversity and above- average state standardized test scores as reasons to save the historic brick building.

They also complained loudly that their opinions were marginalized during numerous public meetings that followed the state's decision to make Clifford a top priority.

"There's a (foregone) conclusion that we're building a new school and we're building it at Baxter," Mary Gross, the parent of a Clifford student, said during Monday's meeting.

Staff Writer Elbert Aull can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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