Sketch of Lewiston’s new elementary school.
LEWISTON — When the new elementary school opens in 2019, it will carry the name of Robert V. Connors, a former superintendent who died in 2013.
It wasn’t a tough choice.
The nine-member committee assigned to pick a name heard a lot of suggestions, but its members said one came up far more than any other.
“Like fresh milk, the cream rises to the top,” committee Chairman John Butler said.
Connors, who grew up in Lewiston, began his career in education as a Lewiston High School history and government teacher. After stints as a principal and assistant superintendent, he took the reins of the department from 1977 to 1998 — and then served on the Lewiston School Committee after he retired.
Ronnie Paradis said she got to know him as a parent and later worked with him.
She said the words “I can’t” were not in his vocabulary.
“We want to teach our students ‘I can,’” she said.
Approved by voters last June, the $49.7 million Robert V. Connors School will merge the aging Martel and Longley schools and will house 880 students. It will be paid for by the state.
In addition to backing the new name unanimously Monday, the School Committee also agreed to name the library at the new school after another local legend, Georgette Berube of Lewiston, who served 26 years in the Legislature before her death in 2005.
School Committee members also approved a proposed $73.6 million budget — a 2.8 percent increase — that will go before the City Council next week and to the voters on May 9.
Butler said the naming committee for the new school decided quickly that it wanted to name it for an individual who had a positive impact on the community and was no longer alive. It’s always risky to name anything for someone who’s still around because every once in a great while, they do something embarrassing.
Members also solicited public input, he said, on social media and in conversation.
Connors came up frequently, officials said, because he was heavily involved in education through turbulent times, displaying professionalism, thoroughness and compassion to his staff, parents and students.
“He was dedicated,” said Paul St. Pierre, a school committee member who served during Connors’ time and later at his side on the board.
St. Pierre said one of Connors’ outstanding traits was that “he had a very loyal staff.”
“Bob would do anything for them,” he said.
Superintendent Bill Webster said Lewiston used to name its schools after the streets where they were located. But starting after 1900, he said, it began naming them for prominent citizens it wanted to recognize, starting with former U.S. Sen. William Pierce Frye, who died in 1911 after a long career in politics.
In addition to his educational positions, Connors also served as a Lewiston city councilor and Planning Board member. He was also involved in the Rotary, the board of Catholic Charities and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church Council.
He attended St. Patrick’s Elementary School as a child and graduated from Lewiston High School in 1955. After graduating from the University of Maine in Orono in 1959, he logged four years as a junior officer in the U.S. Army.
He later received advanced degrees from the University of Maine and Nasson College.
Webster and other school officials said that if Martel and Longley schools are no longer needed for anything, they will likely name wings of the new school after them to help preserve their memory.
Groundbreaking for the new school, which will be erected on Lewiston High School’s existing football field, is slated for mid-May. Members of both the Connors and Berube families are expected to attend.
The budget, though, is what has absorbed educators attention the most in recent weeks.
“It’s been pretty much all budget here,” Webster said.
Officials plan to meet with the City Council next week to go over the proposed spending plan, which has a big question mark about how much state money will come in. The council is slated to vote on it May 2.
The School Committee intends to have a public hearing to review its details and explain how they arrived at the numbers at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 4, probably at Lewiston Middle School or Lewiston High School. It is scheduled for Farwell Elementary School, but that is likely to change.
Linda Scott, the board’s chairwoman, said she hopes a lot of people will turn out because the budget is “hugely important” and getting ever more complex because of what’s going on in Augusta.
St. Pierre said the only proven way to get people “to buy in” to the spending plan instead of just looking at the property tax impact is for City Council members to speak up in support of education.
The public will vote on the budget May 9, officials said.