Lewiston schools full, more room needed; 4-year-olds could replace seniors at Multi-Purpose Center

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Joni O'Malley teaches her first grade class at Martel School in Lewiston on Monday. Like all the other Lewiston elementary schools, Martel is full. O'Malley's classroom has 27 students, the other first grade class has 26 children. Superintendent Bill Webster is predicting continued student growth of 20 percent over the next 10 years. He's recommending the school department take over the city Multi-Purpose Center and create a new Lewiston Early Education pre-school. 

LEWISTON – Lewiston elementary schools are full, “every one of them,” and projected enrollment is expected to add 20 percent more students in the next 10 years, Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said Monday.

Webster said the trend of larger kindergarten classes is here to stay, which would mean that in 10 years, the Lewiston school population would grow from the current 5,109 to 6,192.

To make room for more, Webster recommends that the Multi-Purpose Center be converted into the new Lewiston Early Childhood Development Center. The move would mean that the Birch Street facility no longer would house senior citizen activities and that ownership of it be transferred from the city to the School Department.

The other half of the building would remain Longley Elementary School.

The early childhood center would open a year from now, and would house all of the city's pre-kindergarten students. Under the plan, Lewiston would become the first city in Maine to offer pre-K to all who want it, Webster told the Lewiston School Committee on Monday night. Creating one pre-K center would move existing pre-K classes to Birch Street and free up classroom space at elementary schools.

Overall, Shool Committee members liked Webster's recommendation, and gave it a green light Monday night.

The proposal now goes to the Lewiston City Council, which will decide if 4-year olds should replace senior citizens at the Multi-Purpose Center.

School Committee members did not discuss where senior citizen activities would be held.

Education officials said a growing student enrollment is a healthy sign that Lewiston is a vibrant community. Statewide, student enrollment has declined, with many communities forced to consolidate and even close schools.

“This is big stuff,” Webster said. “It's exciting to think that Lewiston is one of the few districts in Maine with a growing student population. As much as it presents challenges and problems, I'd rather deal with those than declining student enrollment and having to cut positions and programs for students.”

City Council Representative Larry Poulin said he too is encouraged. “It shows we have a vibrant, healthy, growing community.”

Some of the growing enrollment is from the Somali families which tend to have larger families. But it's not all that, Webster said.

“The immigrants are certainly contributing, but we have an increased number of families interested in Lewiston as a place to live,” he said. “We've got a good school system.”

Martel Elementary School Principal Steve Whitfield said his school on Lisbon Street is full, “and we do not have the immigrant population.” Martel's neighborhood has been “repopulated with younger families,” Whitfield said. “Also as parochial schools have increased tuition and consolidated, we have picked up a number of families.”

The projected cost to renovate the Multi-Purpose Center to a pre-K center would be about $200,000, Webster said. That would come from money in the municipal public improvement bonds, which would have to be approved by the council.

The School Committee also gave approval Monday night to other preliminary steps that would explore ways to create more room in schools. They include:

*An architectural and engineering review of the Lewiston Middle School for future expansion and improvements. The building will eventually hold more students, now in the early grades. The middle school improvements “would make it a keeper school,” Webster said. The School Department last year hoped to replace the middle school, but with the school placing so low on the state's needs list of new construction, Webster said that is not going to happen.

*A $40,000 energy audit at Lewiston High School. With more technology available electricity is inadequate at the high school. “We've blown circuits. We blew some today,” Webster said. Instead of adding more power, an audit would ensure improvements are made in the most cost effective way, Webster said.

*Eventually adding eight more classrooms to McMahon Elementary School, probably not until 2013.

All of the above improvements should buy enough time and space, until Lewiston's new elementary school is built to replace Martel, which is expected to get state funding and be built by 2015-16.

While School Committee members praised the plan, they had questions and concerns.

Paul Dumont pointed out that there's little room for buses and cars at the Multi-Purpose Center and adjacent Longley Elementary School.

“It's a great idea, but I'm thinking of the hassle you'll have to go through picking up kids in the morning from their homes, dropping them off" he said. "You've got a lot of young mothers and dads picking up and dropping off those kids. That could be a problem.”

Webster acknowledged that Dumont had a good point, and added that the pre-K center could have different start and end times to avoid parking lot problems.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

Old Pettengill School

What about the old Pettengill School?? From what I understand...this building is still ownwed by the city school dept... Could this not be a solution to the pre-k re-location??

 's picture

Where does Martel school replacement stand?

SJ -

The state committee for School Construction/Infrastructure held a hearing/meeting on 9/7 to discuss where the cutoff was going to be for the 2011 need list. Martel is #8 and Longley wasn't much further down on the list. There are no meeting minutes posted from the 9/7. Maybe you'd have an update?

 's picture

I think that this is a good plan.

This plan makes sense for alot of reasons. We do need to free up the space in the elementary schools for more K-12 students; it's a fact. I am sure that a satisfactory location for a new and perhaps enhanced senior program will be a component of this overall plan.

 's picture

SENIOR CITIZEN

Look like to hell with the Senior Citizen ? The growing senior population is not going away or is it ? It is time to be thinking about who has payed taxes and who has not here ...... Yes the young pre-K classes need a day care all day PRE-K Day Care ... The Senior Citizen need life to PAYING SENIOR CITIZEN DID I SAY THAT BEFORE TO ........

Kathleen Potter's picture

Pre-K Expansion

City Council Representative Larry Poulin said he too is encouraged. “It shows we have a vibrant, healthy, growing community.

I would ask Mr. Poulin & the School Committee to think about the words "vibrant, healthy and growing community". If you do not serve all corners of your community with respect & deference to their population then you will never achieve the bar you think you have risen to. Elimination of a public service with no thought to the consequences, only to expand another sector is poor stewardship of your community, a job you chose to run for and were elected to by this "vibrant, healthy, & growing community".

Thank you.

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