In remaking Edward Little, Auburn shouldn’t build the school that costs the least, rather the one that provides the most value for the dollar — whether that’s about $61 million for a new building, or some $48 million for renovations.

Deciding value, though, comes from deciding what the next EL should be. In a live chat on sunjournal.com last week, Tom Morrill, the superintendent of Auburn schools, described the next school as improving on space and technological inadequacies of the current EL.

“A renewed EL would have modern science labs, adequate space for the arts … technology infrastructure [to] facilitate the delivery of instruction and online programs, minimize teachers having to share classroom space and overall be more efficient to run (heat, electricity, etc.),” Morrill said.

These are fine aims, which deserve support. Few should argue that EL, today, is constrained by its age, condition and design. Yet for the prices being considered, taxpayers should get more than a new EL that essentially does what it does now, only better.

Taxpayers deserve, instead, a truly new EL. The next iteration of Auburn’s high school should not only continue and expand its current offerings and facilities (like the cafeteria) but be planned with suites of new services and opportunities in mind. This new building offers a great chance to re-think what’s offered within.

Other communities in Maine are taking this approach. For several months, two plans, from Rockland and Sanford, have competed for state approval to construct pilot, multi-use high schools that incorporate varied educational outlets into one campus.

Sanford’s proposal for a multi-use school was approved by the State Board of Education in January, but the process has since been re-opened for review. Recently, the Maine House and Senate passed legislation that refined the criteria for deciding such projects, which should yield a final decision on which is approved perhaps later this year.

Each plan includes building new schools to enhance high school education, both traditional and technical, while also incorporating course offerings from Maine’s colleges and universities. Education in specialized, high-demand local trades, such as boat-building, is a part of the Rockland-area plan, which is called “Many Flags, One Campus.” 

These pilots have similarities: an innovative, collaborative approach to education, the identification of educational needs in the community and an understanding that specialized, advanced technical education can, and perhaps should, start as early as possible.

It would be worthwhile to consider which of these features would apply to a renewed EL. Could the next EL become a regional center for arts education, like how the technical center is in Lewiston? Given emphasis toward getting students enrolled in college, would including USM-LAC or Central Maine Community College in the new EL make some sense?

There are new schools being proposed in Maine that echo these concepts. Those planning the next EL should take note.

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