Lewiston student population study means big school wouldn’t be as big

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LEWISTON — A possible big elementary school in Lewiston got smaller Tuesday: A study on future enrollment predicted fewer students than previously assumed.

Consultant John Kennedy of the New England School Development Council said his study shows that, based on existing factors, Lewiston’s student population will grow to 5,523 by 2021, and stay about the same through 2024.

That’s an increase of 246 students.

In recent years, Lewiston’s enrollment has grown by 75 to 100 students per year. Officials assumed that trend would continue. Kennedy said his study shows it will not. Enrollment will continue to be large, but growth has peaked.

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As the larger number of students in lower grades make their way to the middle and high schools, there will be a bulge of more students at those schools, Kennedy said.

The study’s findings mean if Lewiston builds one large school to replace Martel and Longley and relieve overcrowding at other schools, that new school would hold 1,106 students, not 1,300 as previously discussed.

“That’s 200 to 250 less than what we were looking at a month ago,” Superintendent Bill Webster told the Lewiston Redistricting Committee on Tuesday night. “There’s very significant changes there.”

The 1,106-student school is option C, one of three possibilities the committee is considering to recommend to the School Committee on Feb. 2.

The other two options are an 869-student school that would combine Longley and Martel; and a 710-student school that would replace Martel, ease some overcrowding but leave Longley separate, with renovations.

The rub on not building big is the cost to local taxpayers. The state would pay for about 95 percent of the new school; Lewiston taxpayers would pay the rest. However, the state would only pay for one school project.

Lewiston has to decide whether to build one big school to accommodate more students, or a smaller school at state expense and renovate Longley with local taxes.

It would cost $10.8 million to $11.7 million to renovate Longley, making it on par with the city’s other schools, Jeffrey Larimer of Harriman Architects told the Redistricting Committee on Tuesday.

Longley needs a lot of work, including a new roof. “It leaks like a sieve,” Larimer said. The school has single-pane windows, no insulation in the walls and needs an updated electrical system.

The school was built as an open-concept design and closed in with walls later, but there is no ventilation.

“The classrooms are too small,” Larimer said.

“And there’s no kitchen,” said retired Longley Principal Linda St. Andre.

To gut the building and rebuild would cost about $6 million, with another $2 million to $3 million for site work, another $2 million for land testing, fees, furniture and equipment, Larimer said.

After spending up to $11.7 million, the school would only hold 367 students, the same as now with portable classrooms, Larimer said.

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