Lewiston School Committee to explore concept of high school arts center

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Music teacher Darren Avery said it’s time Lewiston High School students have a performing arts center so music and art would no longer be taught in the “bowels” of the school.

LEWISTON — The Lewiston School Committee voted unanimously Monday night to approve spending up to $60,000 for an architect’s study on building a performing arts center for Lewiston High School.

The vote only authorized the study, not the building.

If a performing arts center were built, it would mean art, ceramics, photography, choir, chorus, piano and other classes would no longer be taught in the basement of the high school, or the basement, which lacks windows, ventilation and space.

Students are subjected to noise and exhaust odors, music teacher Darren Avery said. He described the space at the “bowels” of the school.

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When complete, the concept design will provide answers about where a new building, addition or wing could be built, and how much it would cost.

Superintendent Bill Webster said a center would not come with state money, but would be paid for with local dollars. 

The committee Monday was given a recommendation by the school department’s facilities committee to spend up to $60,000 out of $240,000 already approved for expanding parking.

After listening to a presentation by Avery, the committee agreed the need is there.

“I’m in support,” said Luke Jenson. If anyone makes a trip to the high school’s basement, the need is obvious, he said.

Matthew Roy and Benjamin Martin agreed. Martin said he’s also concerned about students exposed to exhaust.

Avery said many people have no idea where the music and art classes are in the school. “We’re down below where everything is out of the way,” he said.

The school was built without arts classrooms, Avery said, adding that his room was originally storage space. His class and others are crammed because they’re in spaces that are too small.

Because they’re in the basement, “students cannot see us, hear us.” There’s little opportunity to display student art. Basement space has been retrofitted for classes, but that comes with problems.

“Air quality, the vocal music room and others are subject to vehicle exhaust,” Avery said. “My room sits right in front of the delivery room. I hear clanging and beeping. My room has been full of exhaust because UPS will come in, forget to turn the vehicle off. All that exhaust comes into my room. As a vocal teacher, that’s a real no-no.”

The choir space is decent, “however, down my hallway is the entrance to the maintenance wing.” The kitchen and boiler room are next door. “There are smells, dings and dongs and noises. It’s just not an environment that’s right for teaching.”

The entrance to his room is filled with clutter because maintenance lacks storage, he said, showing slides. The ceramics class looks like a closet.

The band room is small and cluttered because there’s no storage for formal wear used for performing arts. The room was never meant to be a band room and has no acoustics, Avery said.

“The noise. The poor guidance office (one floor above). Every time the band plays, the guidance office gets a free concert. It’s very loud and a distraction,” Avery said.

Nearby are Lewiston Regional Technical Center classes with “pounding and sawing four periods a day,” Avery said. “To the right is the weight room. The stereo is going all day long. Kids are going in and out, in and out, all day.”

If Lewiston High got a performing arts center, “this would be huge for our community. Think about the businesses that would thrive from this, the opportunities hotels and food (businesses) would get from festivals, art shows and concerts,” Avery said.

“Our kids would thrive,” he said. “We would not only be teaching basics. We’d have advance classes. We’d have students who are excited and proud of where they’re at, not just part of the basement.”

Lewiston High School students fill the hall by the main entrance as they switch classes. On Monday, the School Committee authorized an architect’s study on a performing arts center at the school. 
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