AUBURN – Footprint plans for an expanded Lake Street elementary school got an enthusiastic thumbs up from 165 Auburn residents Wednesday night.

“My husband and I bought our home in this neighborhood because it had a neighborhood school,” said Sharon Wood. “We moved here even before we had a family, and I supported this school before I had children that would go there. This school is very important for many people, and for my family.”

More than 170 people crowded the cafeteria at Auburn Middle School to see the latest version of the school’s expansion. The school department hopes to triple the size of the aging school, and more than double its 145 student enrollment.

Wednesday’s public presentation and straw poll was a formal part of the process the department is following to qualify for state aid, according to Superintendent Barbara Eretzian.

School officials will take the results of the straw poll and a site plan for the project to the state board of education now for a status report and then will begin working on creating a design for the school. A second straw poll is planned for later this summer to introduce Auburn residents to those building designs.

Eretzian said the plan could come before voters this fall for an Auburn referendum.

“But if we cannot get the work done enough to come before the voters this fall, we will have a referendum at another time,” Eretzian said. “We will take as much time as we need.”

Plans call for expanding the nearly two-acre school lot to five acres, and that means purchasing up to eight neighboring properties to fill out the lot. Eretzian said one neighbor has signed an intent to sell to the school district, and Business Manager Jude Cyr said two more are scheduled to make the agreements next week.

“We are in negotiations with up to eight property owners, and that is what has made this a longer project,” she said.

The 77-year-old school has no cafeteria. Children eat in basement classrooms. It has no gymnasium, so students are bused to Webster Intermediate School once a week for physical education. There are no rooms for art or music.

The project would fix all of that by adding 12 classrooms, art and music space, a gymnasium and a cafeteria. It would also create separate areas for buses and parents to drop off students, and for children who walk to school to enter school grounds.

Portland Architect Steven Blatt, designer of the site plan, said the school needs the expansion to survive.

“The fact is, the state is not funding 100-student schools,” Blatt said. “If this plan does not go through and Lake Street does not expand, the school is probably not going to be viable. That’s it. This project and the funding would probably go to another school.”

That thought scared some of the neighbors.

Thumbs down

The vote wasn’t unanimous, however. Six of the people at the meeting voted against it. Don Corwin, a member of a Lake Street neighborhood group who was appointed to the school’s building committee last month, said the plans looked little like plans he approved earlier this month. Corwin also alleged school officials presented the site plan as much more complete than it really is.

“I don’t think most of the people here realize how much this site plan can change before it comes up for a vote,” Corwin said. “I think (school officials) are being way too specific, and they’re only hurting themselves.”

Neighbor Debbie Gellatly of 89 Granite St. said the plan was misleading. School officials do not have all of the property ownership issues settled, but Gellatly said the plan looked like they were.

“I still don’t know about my property,” said Gellatly, whose back yard would back up onto the school’s proposed ball field. “I don’t think they’ve been honest in all of their dealings and I think their communications have been … poor.”

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