Seniors defend use of Multi-Purpose Center to Lewiston City Council

LEWISTON — A school department proposal to convert the Multi-Purpose Center on Birch Street into a pre-kindergarten school got a cool reception from City Councilors and senior citizens Tuesday night.

Andrew Cullen/Sun Journal

About two dozen veterans and senior citizens attended a workshop before the Lewiston city council meeting Tuesday evening to voice their concern over a school department proposal that would turn the Multi-Purpose Center, which currently hosts programming for seniors, into a pre-kindergarten educational facility.

Andrew Cullen/Sun Journal

Norm Bissonette, of Lewiston, speaks to the city council during a workshop prior to Tuesday evening's city council meeting. Bissonette, who runs pinochle and pitch games at the Multi-Purpose Center, opposes a plan proposed by the school department to turn the center into a school for pre-kindergarten students. The school department, meanwhile, is searching for ways to gain classroom space for a rapidly growing student population.

"I see that building for what it is, a multipurpose center," said Willie Danforth, commander of the Franco American War Veterans Post 31. "We need to keep it that way. We need to keep a facility for folks in this community to go to and enjoy."

Lewiston School Superintendent Bill Webster recommended that the Multi-Purpose Center be converted into the new Lewiston Early Childhood Development Center.

The move would mean that the Birch Street facility would no longer house senior citizen activities and that ownership would be transferred from the city to the School Department.

The early childhood center would open in fall 2012, and would house all of the city's pre-kindergarten students, freeing up classroom space at all of the city's elementary schools.

"If present trends continue, we expect to continue enrolling new kindergarten students to the tune of about 460 per year," Webster told Councilors. "At that rate, we will be growing by about 100 students per year for the foreseeable future."

The school system will need at least four new classrooms by the start of school in 2012 and moving the early childhood students into one space is one way to solve the problem.

Councilors said Tuesday's discussion was only the opening round and that they did not plan on making any decisions about the center for some time.

They were skeptical of the plan, however. Councilor Renee Bernier said she expected she would no longer be on the council when the final vote was cast but she warned school officials that seniors would fill council chambers to defend their center.

"There have to be alternatives you can start looking at instead of replacing the seniors at the Multi-Purpose Center," she said. "I'm just warning you, because I'll be watching it on TV when the chambers are quite full."

About 35 seniors attended the meeting, and they were more than happy to defend their community center.

"The question is this: Who came first?" said Ray Mathieu, 65, of 55 Fisher Ave. "Was it the senior citizens who have been paying taxes all their lives to make that building possible? Or was it the pre-kindergartners, who had nothing at all to do with that building?"

But councilors did agree to $600,000 in work and studies of existing school properties.

The entire slate of changes were part of a short-term facilities improvement plan Webster presented. He proposed a $40,000 energy audit at Lewiston High School, a $75,000 architectural and engineering review of the Lewiston Middle School and $485,000 to install new boilers at the Longley School and convert it to natural gas.

The money was reallocated from a previous boiler replacement project at the McMahon School. Webster said the school district had approved a bond issue for that work but signed a lease-purchase agreement instead.

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 's picture


Wait.. since when was schooling required for pre-k? I don't think its up to the school department to provide classroom space for pre-k. Seems like they have several schools there that have been labeled substandard. Seems like they should be taking care of the things that are actually their responsibility, and let the other things go.

 's picture


Yes, that could be an answer for Pre K instead of the multipurpose center and safety as well as parking are there ... good thinking Tina. We better jump on the idea before they take it down though.

 's picture


It just isn't finding a space. It is finding the funds to heat the space during the Spring, Fall, and Winter months. If the school dept. allows seniors to use Pettingill School, then they have to add heating into their budget. What is needed is a relatively small space that is centrally located with some parking and heats well. If anyone knows of such a space please comment here. THank you


I agree that Pettingill

I agree that Pettingill school would be ideal but it shoud house the pre- kindergarten children and not the seniors. Many seniors cannot get out to college street but they can get to the Multi-Purpose Center. Busing the students to the Multi-Purpose Center would create more traffic congestion in the downtown area then the area can handle. Has anyone looked at why we have such an increase in the student population? Has anyone looked at getting resources to help defray the costs of educating an immigrant population that this city was ill-equipped to deal with? Has anyone asked the parents of these young children how they would feel to have their children bussed to an area that doesn't have a great reputation for safety or even cleanliness for that matter? I think the city and the school department needs to take a good long look at several issues. I also think the school department needs to take a look at other schools as well. For example, Martel 5th graders are still housed in modular classrooms and have been for too long. My daughter was in the modular classrooms at Martel and is now a junior in college and last year my son was in those same modular classrooms. As much as I would like to see everyone able to put their child in a pre-kindergarten classroom, there are programs that serve that age group, Androscoggin Head Start and Child Care for one, but we are currently not serving our older school children in a way that they need or deserve. Just look at test scores and I say focus on the older children and let the other programs do what they were started to do.

 's picture

Good Ideas

Pettingill is a great solution. Thank you Tina.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Pettingill school would

Pettingill school would probably be a very good place for seniors and veterans to use. Good location, some parking, and available. The multi-purpose center isn't in a great location and it's always a crowded place because of the school children and their parents.


Not the Gordion Knot

With all the unused real estate in the downtown area, I find it difficult to believe that a solution that suits the needs of both the seniors and the kids cannot be found. It seems to me that it is not so much where they are located as what they need to do there that is the important thing. I don't see why seniors would not be happy in a nice historical setting with food preparation facilities good heat and lighting and accessibility to the downtown area regardless of what building it was in. The kids will need classrooms,play areas,lots of daylight and can ride on busses. Change can be a good thing. Think outside the box.

Jason Theriault's picture

Who came first?

I find that line amusing. Obviously, Mr Mathieu paid for his schooling out of pocket with an after school job, because to make that argument after his parents and grandparents generations paid for his schooling would be quite hypocritical.


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