Debate about what to do with Edward Little High School is being kicked into overdrive with the Auburn School Department hiring a marketing committee to make the case for the $40-60 million investment. Backed by the threat of accreditation probation and a new architectural assessment of options, there is little doubt there must be a major investment to move Auburn through the next two generations of local education.

As approaches are laid out, an aggressive timeframe exists to find a building scenario, either new construction or massive renovation, to last the next 50 years. A look at the current EL leaves no doubt – something needs to be done. Certainly, it is worth analyzing the maintenance program for school and public buildings to ensure that those facilities get the longest possible life.

It should not, however, be acceptable to begin finger-pointing that the current state of EL is directly tied to action or inaction by the school department. That scenario would create an explosive political environment and dominate news headlines, but won’t change the fact a decision must be made to improve educational facilities.

The deficiencies go beyond the lack of windows in the cafeteria and water-stained ceilings. From a modern education perspective, limited laboratory space and a lack of full integration of technology infrastructure are tied a building that was designed and built before the advances we now enjoy in the 21st century.

So as the community looks to the next 50 years, how might education and facility needs evolve, and how will any investment allow us to be flexible and nimble in delivering education not only to high schoolers, but continuing education for adults? Delivery of education is continuing to change, due to advances in technology, new teaching approaches and a recognition that post-high school education is critical for students.

If the community can get beyond a fight over whether to spend the money, an interesting planning discussion could occur. There are many good questions out there that should be answered.

First: How is public education delivered in Lewiston-Auburn? (I know, it’s a shock to even mention Lewiston in an issue that resides on the west bank of the Androscoggin.) With the regional technical center for local high schools on the Lewiston High School campus, how might liberal arts, theater or other non-technical programs be the focus of a new regional campus in Auburn?

Funding is always a limited factor in offering diverse programs for young people, but if large, local high schools partnered together, could you share those limited resources to provide more intense offerings in those niche areas?

As the world continues to move towards sustainability and the need to manage our “carbon footprint,” how will new or improved high schools integrate these concepts? One of the non-educational deficiencies identified with the current EL campus is the shortage of parking. Even with hundreds fewer students attending, more and more kids are driving to school and, in many cases, they are likely driving alone.

Why would we invest millions in expanded parking when we could encourage students to rideshare, walk to school (since it is in an in-town location) or perhaps even take a city of Portland approach and push students into the use of the public transit system?

And with a commitment by more colleges and universities to offer courses to high schoolers, how might increased college offerings change the needs of students in today’s classrooms? Will more students be leaving campus to take college courses, will computer labs become the gateway to their new horizons, thus requiring more and more classrooms dedicated exclusively to that use?

Education is the foundation of ours and any healthy society. To cut corners and shortchange this critical area now will leave generations to pay for that lack of vision. It is time for the community and its leaders to recommend the best possible investment, not split hairs over costs or who’s to blame.

Jonathan LaBonte, of New Auburn, is a columnist for the Sun Journal and an Androscoggin County Commissioner. E-mail: [email protected].


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