LEWISTON — Parents, teachers and alumni told the Lewiston City Council on Tuesday that if Lewiston High School had an arts center, it would broaden economic development, students’ education and careers.
During a City Council workshop, several councilors indicated they would support a concept study for an arts center.
Councilors will formally vote on the $60,000 study when it meets on Tuesday. The study would show how much a high school arts center would cost and where it should be built.
When the school was built in 1972, it didn’t have an auditorium or space for art or music, explained high school music teacher Darren Avery, who is among those leading efforts for a center.
In the ’70s, the school turned basement storage space into classrooms, which is where the arts wing remains, Avery said.
Problems with basement class space are a lack of visibility with many people not knowing the classes exist, inadequate space and ventilation, noise from delivery trucks and the kitchen. There’s no room for storage, which crowds hallways. There’s no space to showcase student work or performances, Avery said.
“Kids need the arts,” he said. “It’s time for the arts to rise in Lewiston.”
Avery got a lot of backing.
For more than an hour, teachers, parents, residents and Lewiston High School graduates, some of whom live out of town, showed up to ask for an arts center study. No one spoke against the study.
The ripple effects a center would have on Lewiston-Auburn economic development “are pretty huge and pretty exciting,” said Stephanie Gelinas, past chairwoman of the L-A Metro Chamber of Commerce.
It would also help students, including her adopted daughter, a Lewiston High sophomore. Her daughter is from Haiti and came here “not knowing a lick of English.”
“It’s been her performing arts classes that have helped her find her voice,” she said.
Mike Plossey of Litchfield said he graduated from Lewiston in 1978, and learned to play the trumpet in basement classes. Today, he’s a freelance musician and teaches music. He has also played with The Temptations.
Area youth would be helped by a center, he said. “There’s a wealth of talent here going untapped.”
Tom Beaulieu of New Hampshire graduated from Lewiston High School in 1990 and is a professional lighting and sound designer, freelancing around the country.
“How many more students could do what I have done with better facilities?” Beaulieu asked.
Paula Masselli said she was a student when the school opened. There was no place for art, so they put the art teacher in the basement, she said.
Through the years, she and her children have been enriched from drama and theater programs. Better space would allow more students to benefit, she said.
Today, she’s raising her niece because the girl’s parents have passed away.
“Photography and drama are keeping this girl alive,” Masselli said. “I don’t know what we would do without that. Please support this.”
Others, including parent Sonya Taylor, said Lewiston has good sports offerings, and students interested in the arts deserve better opportunities. The arts could help many stay engaged in school.
“We are not a sports family but we are an arts family,” Taylor said. “My son is not a fan of school, but he loved art,” she said. “This is such a worthy cause.”
If a concept study is approved, Superintendent Bill Webster said he’d begin meeting with private donors to try to raise money to build a center.
Councilors Joline Beam, Isobel Golden, Shane Bouchard and James Lysen expressed support for the center.
Beam said she’s worked as a high school substitute teacher and has taught classes in the basement.
“It’s dark and dreary,” Beam said. The community has talented youth who need better programs a center would allow, she said. “I’m on board. I am so excited I have goosebumps.”
Lysen said an arts center is worthy of consideration “and of our support.”
“We need to move this forward,” Lysen said.
Mackenzie Richard, 16, a Lewiston High School junior, shows in a video why the high school needs an arts center. In this still, Richard is standing in the basement hall leading to the art wing. The space, which was originally basement storage rooms, has been turned into classrooms.