A man leads a girl by the hand outside Reiche Elementary School in Portland on Tuesday. Questions 3 and 4 on this week's ballot asked voters to approve bond money for school improvements. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

PORTLAND, Maine — Residents on Tuesday voted to fund construction projects at four city elementary schools, ending more than a year of sometimes fierce debate over how to pay for badly needed renovations.

Portlanders passed a municipal referendum, Question 3, that will have the city borrow $64 million to pay for improvements at Presumpscot, Longfellow, Reiche and Lyseth elementary schools. None of the four schools have had major work done in more than 50 years.

The bond measure was approved with 64 percent of the vote, according to the city’s final, unofficial results. It and beat out a competing $32 million bond, presented on the ballot as Question 4, that would have only paid for work at Lyseth and Presumpscot.

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana and School Board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow said they were grateful to Portland voters for approving the measure.

“Not only are renovations … critically needed because of accessibility and safety issues, but – most importantly – they’re also necessary to transform these schools into 21st century learning environments for our students,” said Botana.

The bond, which was championed by Portland parents, school officials and a majority of City Council members, will increase property taxes 3.1 percent over a 26-year period and pay for a variety of improvements at the four schools.

The planned work includes:

— building a separate gym and more classrooms to eliminate trailers that are now used for extra space at Lyseth;

— putting up walls and partitions to divide an open-concept classroom space and create separate rooms for various special services at Reiche;

— constructing a new gym and doing full asbestos abatement at Longfellow, as well as other work to bring the school into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act;

— adding a gym and more classrooms to eliminate trailers at Presumpscot, and creating more space for physical and occupational therapy and the school’s library.

The city plans to borrow the construction funds in stages over the next six years. With interest, this is expected to result in an overall debt of about $92 million over the 26-year life of the bond.

The city forecasts that the tax hike required to pay down this debt will add $1,128 in property taxes for each $100,000 of home valuation. For instance, the owner of a $240,000 home can expect an additional $104 on his or her tax bill each year until the bond is paid off.

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