Lewiston willing to consider park at former Pettingill site

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LEWISTON — Councilors may not be completely sold on plans to turn the former Pettingill School lot into a park, but they’ll put it to a vote.

A handful of neighbors of the school attended Tuesday’s workshop meeting, urging councilors to support the park.

“I just hope that we can turn it into a park and help it to be a nice community area for all of us to gather together,” said Claire Gauvin of 378 College St. “Maybe we can have cookouts or barbecues or get-togethers. We need more of that. We need people to get to know each other, and we can’t do that if everything is isolated.”

But councilors said they had to consider other options for the lot, including subdividing it and selling it to be developed for housing.

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“We listened to everything, but councilors are pulled from many different sides,” Councilor Mark Cayer said. “That’s why we debate, share our opinions, try to change each other’s minds and listen to the public. Ultimately, we’ll do what we feel is best for the city.”

Lewiston officially closed Pettingill Elementary School in 2008, moving the students to the newer Geiger Elementary. School Committee members recommended tearing down the former school and building a neighborhood park on the 2.11-acre lot at the corner of College and Little streets.

Neighbors have been using the former school’s playground as a community park since the school closed.

Developing the lot as a city park could be expensive, according to estimates — $55,000 for fencing, landscaping and site work. The city has just completed demolition of the old school.

On the other hand, staff estimated the four subdivided lots could sell for up to $40,000 each.

Neighbors, former students and parents formed the Friends of Pettingill last year to create a community park. The group has raised about $4,000 and organizers said they’d work to raise more to pay for playground equipment and to develop the lot.

Cayer said he was willing to leave one-quarter of the parcel open to a park, selling the remaining property for housing. Councilor Doreen Christ said she was in favor of selling the entire parcel for housing.

A majority of councilors said they favored keeping at least half of the property open as a park.

“I think we have plenty of space available around the city for residential development,” Councilor Nathan Libby said. “This is a pretty unique opportunity. So at this point, I’m at the point of seeing this lot maintained as a park.”

Councilor Michael Lachance agreed.

“I’m inclined to support the park because the residents really do want it,” he said. “There has been a real effort and a passion and we don’t always see that, so it should be considered.”

City Administrator Ed Barrett said councilors will see the item on a regular agenda later this year.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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