LEWISTON – The state has virtually guaranteed that Pettingill Elementary, an aging school with basement classrooms and a closet-turned-teachers-room, will get money for a major overhaul.

But other area schools will likely have to find a way to fix their own problems or wait two to three more years for another chance at state aid.

The Maine Department of Education on Wednesday released its priority list of 66 schools in need of additions, major overhauls or complete replacements. Schools were ranked in order of need. Those at the top of the list will share $130 million in state aid.

Portland’s Nathan Clifford School ranked No. 1, with Buxton’s Jewett and Hanson elementary schools less than a point behind at No. 2.

Lewiston’s Pettingill Elementary School came in sixth. “Woohoo!” said Principal David Bartlett. “That’s a good number.”

State officials stressed that they won’t know how many schools will share the $130 million until summer. It will depend on how costly the highest-ranked projects turn out to be. When the state gave out $172 million in 2002, the first 11 got money. At No. 6, Pettingill is all but assured funding.

Bartlett was elated to learn of his school’s rank Wednesday. Some Pettingill students attend class in the basement, next to the boiler room. The physical education closet was turned into a work space for teachers because there was no other place to put them. The library is housed in a portable unit and the only private space for parent meetings is the principal’s office.

The 79-year-old school houses 314 students. It should accommodate only 250, Bartlett said.

“It’s a building that no longer meets the standards for a school today,” he said.

The state rankings do not mean specific projects have been approved, but Pettingill’s property is so small and the old school needs such a major overhaul that Bartlett hopes the state will help build a new school.

‘Disappointed’

Other applicants landed so far down the list that it’s unlikely they’ll see any money.

“I’m obviously disappointed,” said SAD 9 Superintendent Michael Cormier. “I’m not sure what it’s going to take to get high enough on the list.”

Cormier, who oversees eight schools for nine Farmington-area towns, has applied for money for Mt. Blue High School three times and for W. G. Mallett School twice. This year the schools ranked their highest yet – No. 17 for the high school and No. 19 for the elementary school – but that probably won’t be high enough.

Cormier said he can’t understand it. Mallet is more than 70 years old, crowded and not accessible to the handicapped. The high school is 35 years old, has 17 portable units and is dealing with an aging sewer treatment facility.

“I don’t know if it’s going to last two or three more years,” he said.

He said the school district will now have to discuss its other options, including paying for repairs locally or applying to the list again in two or three years.

Auburn officials were disappointed that their high school was low on the list, too. Built in 1962, Edward Little needs a new heating system and electrical work, more classrooms, a kitchen facility, a theater and roof repairs. Like Cormier, Auburn officials plan to look at their options. But they will do one thing immediately.

Appeal.

“We know the high school,” said Business Manager Jude Cyr. “The facility is tired.”

State officials must now decide how far down the list $130 million will go. Some highly ranked schools will receive more state money than others because some will need to be replaced while others will need simple additions.

Construction aid will be calculated within General Purpose Aid, which is based on a complex formula that includes enrollment, tax rates and property values.


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