Lewiston High School arts center: High costs prod planners to scale back

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LEWISTON — After months of planning, the numbers are in on what it would cost to build an arts center at Lewiston High School.

The costs are more than expected, so planners are abandoning — for now — dreams of having a large stage and auditorium, and will spend the next year focusing on a proposed, two-story classroom wing behind the high school.

The cost of a two-story classroom wing would be between $8.6 million to $10.8 million, according to a feasibility study by Lavallee-Bresinger, the Portland architectural firm tasked with designing the arts center. No state money is expected to be available, Superintendent Bill Webster said, adding the cost of the building would likely be covered by private donations and local taxpayer dollars.

To build everything — including a reconfigured parking lot, the two-story classroom wing, a new administrative area and a large stage and auditorium for 1,000 — would cost $26 million to $28 million, according to the architect’s study.

The classroom wing, Phase II, is the priority, said music teacher Darren Avery, who has been a spokesman for the wing’s need at the high school.

“We need a proper education facility,” he said. “The numbers are a little higher than we hoped for. But we’re going to spend the next year to look at (raising) private money.”

When the high school opened in the 1970s, there were no art rooms. Today the school’s art classes are in the basement, retrofitted storage rooms that are too small, lack windows and proper ventilation. It is something about which many in the community do not know, Avery said.

“They look at Lewiston High School and see this massive, awesome building” now with new athletic fields,” he said. “But the arts are still in old storage rooms next to trash heaps.”

Decent art class space is important “to meet the needs of students educationally,” Avery added.

This fall, a new program on multimedia digital art will be offered to high school students. But there is no classroom space, so “we’re retrofitting a storage room with no windows,” Avery said.

“It’s great we got the teacher,” but an old storage space for a classroom is unacceptable, he said.

BUILDING COMMITTEE FORMED

To help turn the architect’s concept plan into a reality, a building committee has been formed and met for the first time last week, Webster said.

The Lewiston High School Visual and Performing Arts Building Committee’s role is to make recommendations about the size, scale and price of an arts wing.

The 18 members are a blend of educators, administrators, elected officials, business people, arts professional and a high school student, McKenzie Richard.

Members include Webster, High School Principal Jake Langlais, teacher Darren Avery and three School Committee members: Luke Jensen, Francis Gagnon and Tina Hutchinson.

Also, Bruce Damon, Ronnie Paradis, Louie Turcotte, Nathaniel Meyer, Kyna Pitula, Robert Reed, Karen McClure-Richard, McKenzie Richard, Paula Masselli, J.R. Davis, Roger Fuller and Richard Martin.

The committee is varietal, representing schools, students, business and the arts.

“I’m very excited about that,” Avery said.

As proposed, the overall project would have three phases.

Phase I is expanding and redesigning the parking lot at the high school, adding 100 spaces to the existing parking area and correcting safety problems.

“We’d be reconfiguring the whole thing,” Webster said.

The problem of students having to walk from the parking area across lanes where parents and buses are picking up and dropping off students would be corrected with new, safer spaces. Money to improve parking has already been approved.

Phase II is a two-story wing of about 12 classrooms for the arts: chorus, choir, art, ceramics, photography and dance.

“Phase two only happens if we’ve done phase one,” Webster said. “We’re working on a plan that would lead up to all that needs to happen.”

Phase III is everything: The reconfigured parking lot, two-story classroom wing, new administrative area and a large stage and auditorium.

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