LEWISTON — Lewiston voters will decide Tuesday whether the Lewiston Middle School, originally built as Lewiston High School in 1933, will get $9.1 million worth of improvements.
Voting will be held at the Multi-Purpose Building, 145 Birch St., from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 10.
The classic red brick building has never had a major facelift, but is structurally sound and has “good bones,” according to architects.
It looks beautiful on the outside, but on the inside is worn and dingy. Holes in the plaster are common, as is peeling paint from water damage. The bathrooms have never been updated and despite being cleaned, some smell of urine.
The building lacks ventilation. A web of wires run up and across walls for things that came after the building was built, such as computer and phone systems. A growing enrollment means the building lacks enough space for classrooms, the library and cafeteria, Principal Shawn Chabot said.
If the referendum is passed, the school would get building and safety upgrades, including a sprinkler system in areas where none exist, classroom ventilation and renovated bathrooms. An additional 11,000 square feet would allow for about 10 more classrooms, a larger library and cafeteria, and moving the principal and front office from the second to the first floor where the public enters.
The School Department assumed eventually a new middle school would be built, “and trying to be good stewards we didn't want to spend money on a building that wouldn't be used,” Chabot said in June. Since no replacement building is in sight, “we need to reinvest.”
A new middle school could cost $50 million or more.
The school's enrollment is now 700. "We're maxed," Chabot said. Next year enrollment is expected to grow to 750, and to 800 by 2017.
The bond would be paid for by local property taxpayers without state school construction money. City officials estimated the middle school improvements would cost about $25 more in annual property taxes for a home valued at $100,000, or $37.50 a year for a home assessed at $150,000. That cost would go down, City Administrator Ed Barrett said, as the loan matured and if Lewiston received more from the state for education.
School Superintendent Bill Webster expects the impact on taxpayers to be less. Schools receive more state education dollars when enrollment grows, and Lewiston's enrollment is growing, he said.
The July vote is the first time Lewiston has held a referendum in the summer, City Clerk Kathy Montejo said. It may not help attract a good turnout.
“We've only issued 34 absentee ballots,” Montejo said Friday. Voter turnout could be as low as what Lewiston receives for the annual school budget approval every May, which is “pretty low” with some 400 to 500 voters, or 1.5 percent of those registered.
Webster has sent a “please vote on July 10” letter to every Lewiston household. The School Department also held a June 21 open house allowing the public to come inside and inspect the school.
A common question Montejo has heard is why didn't the city hold the referendum during the recent June state primary election.
“Timing-wise it didn't match up,” she said. The middle school bond question was approved for referendum by the City Council in May. To get on the June primary ballot, Montejo would have had to send in the information 45 days before, or in April, she said.
Montejo wants residents to remember the middle school vote is this Tuesday. “If they're out and about, swing in and vote." There's only one question on the ballot, Montejo said. “It'll just take a minute.”