LEWISTON — The School Committee will be asked Monday to approve a proposal to combine the pupils of Longley and Martel elementary schools at a school to be built at the Franklin Pasture Sports Complex at the Lewiston High School.
The athletic fields will be relocated, according to Superintendent Bill Webster, blended into what will be a large campus where fields and schools will be connected by walking paths and sidewalks.
The population at the high school is just over 1,300 students and the population at the new elementary school would be between 800 and 900 pupils.
The School Committee on Aug. 17 will take up the unanimous recommendation of the Site Selection Committee to build at Franklin Pasture. That meeting will be held at 6:45 p.m. in the City Council Chamber at City Hall to accommodate what is expected to be high-interest public attendance.
According to Webster, 17 sites in or next to Martel and Longley schools were considered by the Site Selection Committee. After considering availability and cost, along with environmental assessments, the committee settled on two finalists: Franklin Pasture and a parcel on Old Lisbon Road, about 3 miles from Martel Elementary School.
The Site Selection Committee’s choice of Franklin Pasture was based on its proximity to the Longley school on Birch Street and Martel on Lisbon Street, and the majority of the pupils, which would negate additional transportation costs. And, according to Webster, the proximity to Lewiston High School will increase educational programming opportunities for elementary pupils.
If the proposal is approved and pupils are moved to the new building, Webster said, the Martel building will revert to the city. The School Department would retain the Longley building to continue housing adult education programs and to expand the district’s alternative education programs.
“We have a great need for expanding alternative programming, particularly for high school students, but also for middle school students,” Webster said. His hope is to establish a program for between 150 and 250 students at Longley for specialized education that would “improve dramatically the high school graduation rate.”
Webster said the option to build at Franklin Pasture is available because “the state-funded project will fully cover the cost of relocating the existing playing fields,” as shown on the accompanying concept plan.
The typical cost of an elementary school of the size being considered in Lewiston is about $40 million. That does not include the cost of moving the athletic fields.
“This presents the opportunity to have really first-class athletic fields for the high school, which will ultimately benefit the entire city,” Webster said. And the connecting paths across campus will provide “not only a better route for students and families, but also for the public to enjoy and have the ability to get away from roads that have automobile traffic.”
This solution, Webster said, “is similar to an earlier school construction project in Falmouth where the state covered the cost of relocating the high school fields.”
He said the committee’s recommendation to build next to the high school takes advantage of the opportunity to relocate the playing fields “at a time where the campaign to raise funds to upgrade Franklin Pasture had slowed, and the expectation is that the state-funded relocation when combined with funds already raised will result in a superior main stadium with an all-weather field.”
According to Webster, “the track can be separated from the main field and relocated to the existing softball field with a practice field in the interior. The combined baseball-field hockey field can be placed in Marcotte Park.”
The proposal will likely move the football field closer to the school, Webster said, “tucked up right next to it.”
And, he said, “the tentative plan is to use local funds to purchase Drouin Field from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland for the relocated softball and practice field.”
The School Department is in discussions with the diocese for purchase.
If the site is supported by the School Committee, Webster said, a formal site application will be submitted to the Maine Department of Education.
The process will include a public presentation and straw poll in October and could be approved by the Maine State Board of Education as early as November.
The tentative schedule includes a public referendum in June 2016 and construction completion by the summer of 2019.
After the district announced the Site Selection Committee’s recommendation Wednesday, Webster said there were “Facebook posts, phone calls and emails off the hook” from people who were asking how the district could consider siting a new school at Franklin Pasture, but once they found out more about it they became more supportive.
“This is the best location for the elementary school,” he said, offering opportunities for children in the classroom and on athletic fields.
If the site is approved, the next phase will include a building design by Harriman Associates of Auburn.
The project will be fully state-funded except for any additional features that may be added locally, Webster said.
The exact amount of state and local funding will be determined during the next phase of planning, he said.
The 18-member Site Selection Committee was chaired by School Committee member Tom Shannon and included School Committee member Linda Scott, community representatives Elizabeth Eames, John Butler, Marnie Mourneault, Rob Ullrich, Ronnie Paradis, Stacey Laflamme and Zam Zam Mohamud. It also included city employees Dave Jones and Jeff Baril, Planning Board member Bruce Damon and School Department employees Butch Pratt, Elaine Runyon, Joe Perryman, Steve Whitfield, Kristie Clark and Webster. Representatives of Harriman Associates were also part of the site selection.