LEWISTON – After mixed reviews from residents Monday night, the School Committee unanimously voted to build an elementary school next to Lewiston High School.
The school, which would open in 2019 and house between 800 to 900 students, would be for students of Longley and Martel elementary schools.
The site is at Franklin Pasture, the site of the high school football field. The field and others would be moved and improved, giving Lewiston “first-class athletic fields” plus walking paths across the campus to get away from motor vehicle traffic, Superintendent Bill Webster said.
School Committee member Tom Shannon, who chaired the site selection committee that recommended the site, said it took months to find the right place. The committee considered 17 sites, he said.
Architect Jeff Larimer of Harriman Associates said other sites were ruled out because they had wetlands, not enough land, or were too costly.
The Maine Department of Education suggested the sports fields in Franklin Pasture.
Larimer said the high school football field would be relocated behind the high school. The driveway of the new school would be off Bartlett Street.
Advantages of the site are that it would be close to Martel and Longley schools, there would be no additional transportation costs. Also, being close to the high school means community organizations would increase options for programs.
City Councilor Kristen Cloutier, who serves on the School Committee, said she and other councilors are excited about the location and what it could do for students and the city.
School Committee members Linda Scott, Jim Handy and Paul St. Pierre agreed. “Many of us have had positive comments throughout the community,” St. Pierre said. “People seem to think it’s a perfect fit.”
Resident Jacqueline Smith said she’s not happy with the site. She questioned safety of Martel students “moving down the street,” how they’d have to cross four lanes of traffic on East Avenue. “Where’s the logic in that?” she asked.
The project shouldn’t be about new sports fields but an elementary school, Smith said.
Webster said Martel students would be bused as they are now. The Franklin Pasture location would provide Longley students the ability to continue to walk to school because it’s less than a mile away.
In terms of the fields, Webster said the site was chosen because it is the best site educationally. Because the fields are in the way, the state would pay for them to be relocated.
Tina Hutchinson said she is also opposed to the site. The school entrance would be on Bartlett Street. “The traffic on that hill in the winter can slide all over the place,” she said.
Hutchinson said Lewiston Regional Technical Center will need room to grow and asked where future programs would go. Construction of the school would distract high school students, she said.
Webster said the sidewalk to the new school would be through Franklin Pasture, not Bartlett Street hill. Access could be through East Avenue.
High school students won’t be disturbed by construction, Webster said, because the school would be built on the far side of the high school gym.
Resident Charles Soule said he likes the location. “It takes into consideration the inner city’s children’s needs.” Some parents had concerns of how they’d get their children to school if it was built on the outskirts, he said. “It’s a good compromise. It takes into consideration Martel and Longley concerns. I’m happy. And that’s unusual,” he said to laughter.
John Butler said the site committee did a lot of hard work and its choice “is the best site. It’s a site that works for Martel and Longley. If we can move some fields, let’s move some fields.”
Dawn Hartill said she favors the recommended location. She asked why other sites, including the Staples shopping center, were taken off the list.
Larimer said it is because of costs to buy out the owner.
The Longley school site didn’t have enough land, and then a new home for Lewiston Adult Education, which is in Longley, would have to be found, officials said.
Stacey Smith asked if the school entrance would have adequate sidewalks and crossing guards, and is having a school close to the high school good for young students.
The design of the entrance is not yet developed, Webster said. High school students now have important roles with elementary students. The location would allow more high school students to work with younger students, Webster said.
The site will need approval in a straw vote by Lewiston residents on Oct. 21, and approval by a Lewiston referendum in June 2016. Construction would follow that, and the school would open in August 2019.
Typically a school of 800-900 students would cost about $40 million. The project would be fully state-funded except for additional features added locally, Webster said.