AUBURN – Edward Little High School looks scruffy and tired.

Walls and ceilings need paint. Carpets are worn. In some places, floors are missing tiles.

The school was built for 1,500 students. It now holds 1,100, but it’s crowded, according to Principal Jim Miller. That’s because state and federal mandates passed since the school was built mean more programs must be offered. Rooms for special education, chorus, art, computer skills, English language learners, a social worker and a health center have reduced class space.

There’s no auditorium. The cafeteria is in what used to be a basement storage area and isn’t equipped for a hot-lunch program. “There’s no windows; the ventilation is minimum,” Miller said. Fans circulate the air.

The school, built in 1961, has an excellent gym with a new floor, but locker rooms are down the hall. It lacks playing space and sports fields. Athletes travel to elementary schools to play. The heating system is inefficient. Some days, it’s too hot and humid; other days, too cold.

The School Committee wants the community to decide what to do about the aging school. Building a new one would cost $52 million, according to an architect’s report, but state money won’t be available for several years and Edward Little might not qualify for it.

In June, the committee hopes to offer city voters a referendum on whether to build, renovate and expand, or do something less than that.

The problems with Edward Little are the worst among the city’s schools, said interim Superintendent Tom Morrill. “Something has to be decided.”

The worst part is not having enough space for programs, Principal Miller said. “You don’t have an auditorium. You don’t have art rooms.” Guidance counselors meet with parents in tiny offices. The library’s too small.

Staff and students teach and learn without dwelling on facility problems, Miller said, but at some point, “Maybe you ought to start to spend your money more wisely.”

The city spent $600,000 in 2007 to renovate bathrooms and locker rooms, to upgrade security and to create an intercom phone system. In 2006, it spent $570,000 on a partial new roof and an elevator. And in 2005, $400,000 paid for gym bleachers, a gym floor, a walkway and tennis fencing.

‘Poor maintenance’

Miller says 46 years is old for a high school, but part of the problem is poor maintenance, said City Councilor Ray Berube, the mayor’s representative on the School Committee.

“They can spend $2,500 for a copy machine that prints color, but they can’t keep the inside of the school painted? This is poor maintenance as far as I’m concerned,” Berube said.

Miller said maintenance work is constantly being addressed.

Walls don’t get painted if they’re not on a painting schedule, he said. Plaster won’t stay on one wall because of the building’s age and humidity. In places, worn carpet is only four years old. But with 1,100 kids walking on it during the day and adult education students at night, it wears out quickly, he said.

Berube doesn’t support a new school, especially if the costs fall on local taxpayers.

“We don’t need a new building. The building is not that old,” Berube said. With the right renovations, it could be made “a good school kids could be proud of,” he said. The most he’d favor spending would be $10 million to $15 million.

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