Architect: Big schools can have small-school atmosphere

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LEWISTON — A committee charged with recommending the kind of school the city should build to replace Martel Elementary was shown designs for large schools Monday night.

Architect Jeff Larimer of Harriman Associates showed diagrams of 12 large schools, including two in Maine and 10 in North Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Kansas and Massachusetts.

The Maine schools were for 850 students and 600 students, which are smaller than a 1,200- or 1,300-student school Lewiston is considering.

The out-of-state schools ranged from 900 students in Utah and North Carolina to 1,000 students in Kansas and 2,200 students in Massachusetts.

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The committee is considering recommending three options to the Lewiston School Committee next month. One is a school to take care of the city’s growing student population, which could cost $40 million and house 1,300 students. For that option, the state would pick up 95 percent of the costs.

Two other options would be building a smaller school, which the state would pay for, and renovating Longley with local taxpayer dollars.

If Lewiston goes big, the goal would be designing a large school to achieve economics but designing it with smaller wings for a small-school atmosphere, Larimer said.

There could be two wings for 600 students each, three wings for 400 students or four wings for 300 students.

“The idea is making smaller schools and connecting them together with a common core,” Larimer said.

Schools can be designed so each wing is organized by grades, for example, prekindergarten and kindergarten; grades one and two; grades three and four; and grades five and six.

Another design could have three pre-kindergarten to grade six schools, with each wing containing 400 students. Younger students would be on the first floor, older students on the second.

Factors to consider when designing a large school are ensuring all students have equal access to programs, and there is enough gym, library, cafeteria, arts and special services space. One gymnasium or one cafeteria may not be enough to accommodate 1,300 students, Larimer said.

Among the largest schools in Maine is the 850-student Buxton Center Elementary School, which consolidated four schools into one. There are three wings with 257 students in grades kindergarten to five in each. The wings are named Oak, Pine and Maples and students stay in their wing through grade five.

Of all the diagrams shown Monday, the closest to what Lewiston is considering seemed to be a 1,250-student school in Massachusetts. The two-story school has two wings with 625 students each. There are two gymnasiums and cafeterias, with administration and other support services in the center.

Redistricting committee member Janet Beaudoin said she isn’t sure what kind of school to recommend next month.

“Right now, I honestly don’t know how I’m going to vote,” she said. “The major thing I keep hearing is where is this going to be built? That’s a huge deciding factor.”

Chairwoman Linda Scott said she doesn’t disagree, but that’s not the charge of the committee. Its job is to recommend what kind of school; the site selection will be a different committee.

It’s tough to pick the site without knowing the size of the school, Superintendent Bill Webster said. The site selection committee could come back and say the size school recommended doesn’t work with available sites, he said.

Asked what kind of school the Maine Department of Education will support, Webster said his sense is that assuming enrollment projections support the school Lewiston wants to build, “they will build whatever Lewiston wants, a smaller or large school.”

But if Lewiston builds too small, future needs will be the burden of local taxpayers, Webster previously said.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

What’s next

* Dec. 16: The Lewiston Redistricting Committee meets at 4:30 p.m. in the Dingley Building. It will discuss a new study showing a 10-year projection on student enrollment. Those numbers will be critical in knowing what size school the city should build to avoid the new school being full on the day it opens four years from now.

Lewiston student population is and has been growing by about 75 to 100 students a year. All elementary schools are overcrowded.

Superintendent Bill Webster said he expects to have the study Dec. 10, which will give members time to digest the findings before the meeting.

Jan. 7: The committee will hold a meeting broadcast on cable television at 7 p.m. Lewiston City Hall.

Committee member Tom Shannon said it’s important that meeting last only one hour, that it include a brief summary of why Lewiston is considering a big school and what options the city has.

If that meeting goes longer than one hour, “we’re going to lose our audience.”

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