Portland’s ‘Green New Deal’ initiative complicates ongoing school renovations


School officials and building committees involved in Portland’s elementary school renovations are seeking clarification on the energy requirements of the Green New Deal proposal that was passed by voters in November, a local referendum that was opposed by most of the city council and the mayor. 

As much as $6 million could be added to the budget that is currently set at $48 million for renovations at Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche Elementary schools in Portland. 

The Green New Deal policy states that renovation projects which are 5,000 square feet or greater and are owned or operated by the city must comply with higher energy standards. However, the language is unclear if the 5,000 square foot condition applies exclusively to new renovations or to both new renovations and entire existing buildings.

Mark Lee of Harriman Associates, the architect for the school projects, said if the required upgrades are applied to the renovated areas at two of the schools, the additional costs would not be significant. The potential $6 million in additional cost comes if the language of the ordinance requires upgrades throughout all three schools, not just the newly renovated sections. 

It all comes down to how the city will interpret the language. The school district’s legal counsel, Aga Dixon, said at a meeting a few weeks ago, “We can and we will make an argument that a reasonable interpretation is only to apply that to the new additions,” she said. “I think that’s a reasonable interpretation. But if historically the city has interpreted that differently, it will be quite challenging to overcome that barrier.”

The district has already scaled back the scope of the projects due to rising construction costs. If the square footage requirement applies to entire buildings and not just the new renovations, the ordinance will add $2 million to the cost of the Longfellow renovation, $1.5 million to Presumpscot and $2.5 million to the Reiche project. 

In addition to the possible $6 million in additional renovation costs, Portland Public Schools now face new labor requirements under the Green New Deal ordinance. Included in the policy is a rule that requires a certain percentage of the workforce on city-funded construction projects to be apprentices, which could limit the amount of contractors able to bid on the project.

Waiting for the city to analyze and clarify the language has so far delayed one project that was supposed to go out for bid by at least several weeks, and will likely continue to impact other projects funded by the city as well.


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