Site approved for new Edward Little High School

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During a joint meeting Wednesday night of the Auburn School Committee and the City Council, officials approved the site recommended for the new Edward Little High School. It will be built at the existing site on Harris Street. From left: City Councilors Andrew Titus and Leroy Walker, School Committee member Donald Poisson, the thumb of City Councilors Alfreda Fournier and City Councilor Robert Hayes. (Bonnie Washuk/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — Auburn City Councilors and School Committee members gave unanimous approval Wednesday night to the recommended Harris Street site for the new Edward Little High School, the same address of the existing high school.

“I was hoping that this was exactly where ELHS would end up,” said City Councilor Alfreda Fournier, during a Wednesday night joint workshop to talk about the site.

“This is a great spot. And with everything we’re looking at down the road for our kids being involved in the community, staying close to the hub is a real good place to be,” Fournier said. “I’m just ecstatic.”

City Councilor Holly Lasagna was also pleased.

“You guys have done an amazing job,” she said. “You’ve been able to compress all the work it took. Really fantastic.”

Now, the public will be asked for its input on building the new school at 77 Harris St.

That straw poll will be held Sept. 5 at the Auburn Middle School.

Unlike the official referendum that will be held in 2019, the straw poll vote is nonbinding, but it is required by the state, which is paying for the new school. The state wants to see that the recommended site has the backing of the community, said School Committee Chairman Tom Kendall.

At that straw poll meeting, those attending will hear an overview from the architects about the site, the proposed school and work done so far.

Kendall suggested officials have “a straw poll of our own” to show the community how they feel about building a new high school where the existing high school is.

“It’s extremely important that we go forward as a unit, that we are supportive of this,” Kendall said.

When the thumbs up or thumbs down poll was requested, all of the thumbs were up, except Mayor Jason Levesque, who smiled as he said: “I’m the mayor. I can’t vote unless it’s a tie.” Levesque voiced support for the site at the June 29 press conference.

Harriman architect Mark Lee gave city councilors an overview Wednesday night explaining the work that went into the site recommendation.

Over more than a year, the building committee held 54 meetings, evaluated 47 sites and 3,500 acres. Of those spots, five sites rose to the top, including land between Hotel and Stevens Mill roads. At closer evaluation, things like wetlands and location led the committee to recommend Harris Street.

The state allows up to 42 acres in the site for a school the size of Edward Little, Lee said. The ELHS site has 56 acres, but the steep slope in part of the land reduces usable acreage to the high 30s, Lee said.

“How we use that slope to our benefit for more space is going to be the challenge in building,” Superintendent Katy Grondin said.

The site also had ledge, which can make it tough to build. The state will pay for ledge blasting, according to School Committee member Bonnie Hayes.

One of the next step will be deciding the programs and activities that will be used or offered at the new school, which will be affect how the building is designed.

Possible programs — from a swimming pool to an arts center to career and technical education — are outlined in a document that will soon be posted online at the Auburn School Department’s website — www.auburnschl.edu.

One possible new program would be a satellite program of the Lewiston Regional Technical Center, Grondin said. LRTC Director Rob Callahan is working on programs to be housed at the new Edward Little. They could include engineering, composite manufacturing, precision manufacturing, robotics, law enforcement, firefighting, EMT, nursing and culinary arts.

The state might not approve all of the requested career and technical education  programs, but overall the state is on board with the new high school having career courses, Grondin said.

“We’re the first brand new high school to build a satellite program,” Grondin said. “We’re blazing new trails. We’ll work with the Maine Department of Education. They will develop how is this going to work.”

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