LEWISTON — Acting Education Commissioner Jim Rier said Wednesday that construction money for a new Martel Elementary School in Lewiston could be approved this year, but he cautioned: “We’ve not made a commitment to do that.”

Moving more school construction projects toward approval for state funding is a priority, Rier said.

The top six projects on a state list have been approved for funding. The next batch, seven through 12, could get approval this year. “We might consider moving five or six more projects at some time, but we’re not there yet,” Rier said. He said he hoped it would happen this year.

Martel Elementary School is No. 8 on the state list; Edward Little High School in Auburn is No. 16. “Martel is the one that will move the soonest,” Rier said. “If we’re able to move projects seven through 12, it will be in that group. Edward Little might be in another round that will occur in the future.”

Whether any money becomes available for school construction will depend on the budget approved by state lawmakers this spring.

Even though state funding for Martel this year is iffy, Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said it was welcome news. “We’ll move when the state’s ready to move,” he said.

Martel is an old, crowded school that lacks amenities other schools offer students.

If Lewiston receives state funding this year, the School Department would establish a committee and hire an architect to plan where the school would be located, what it would involve and who would go there.

“We will be making a list of options,” Webster said. “The direction of a new school would ultimately be approved by the Lewiston School Committee, then finally go to voters.”

Even if the state gives its approval this year, it could be two years before the project is ready to go to voters, Webster said.

A new elementary school would likely house about 600 students and cost $40 million to $50 million. How much the state would pay is based on the state funding formula, which means much of the cost would be covered by state taxpayers.

Since the state wants larger elementary schools, one possibility recommended by last year’s redistricting committee is that the new school would house grades three through six students from Longley, Farwell and Martel elementary schools, and students in prekindergarten through grade two would go to Farwell and Longley.

A grades three through six school with students from the three schools would have the same kind of socioeconomic makeup as the middle and high schools, Webster said.

A larger school also could take care of the needs of Longley Elementary, which is No. 20 on the state construction list.

“A solution could be one project that would meet the needs identified at both facilities,” Webster said. Combining students for one larger school “is the type of thing the state has approved in the past; you knock off another project.”

Lewiston student enrollment is growing by about 100 students per year, which has resulted in crowded schools.

Martel and Longley each holds about 370 students, more than they were designed for. Longley has a number of portable classrooms; Martel has two and more may be added, Webster said. Martel has several classrooms especially overcrowded, with 29 students each.

And Farwell Elementary, a school that opened in 2007, is already crowded.

A computer room in the library has been turned into a classroom, Webster said. If a new elementary school doesn’t happen in the next few years, Farwell may also need portable classrooms.

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