LEWISTON — The Maine State Board of Education on Wednesday approved replacing the old, overcrowded but beloved Martel Elementary School.

With the city’s enrollment growing by more than 100 students a year, Superintendent Bill Webster said it’s great news. It means planning for a new school — where it will be located and how many students it will hold — can begin.

“It’s exciting,” Maine State Board of Education member Peter Geiger of Lewiston said. “It’s due.”

A good education is about teachers and the system, but a decent building is important, Geiger said.

The other five schools that won state approval for construction money Wednesday are Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, Monmouth Middle School, Teague Park School in Caribou, Morse High School in Bath and Hall Elementary School in Portland.

It will likely take several years before the school opens. “It’s a long process,” Geiger said.

“Our classrooms are overflowing right now,” Principal Steve Whitfield said. Many classrooms have 28 students. “We’re full.”

The school has 345 students; eight years ago it had 240.

The original part was built in 1925, with additions in the 1950s. There’s no music room, no art room. The gym doubles as the cafeteria. There are no conference rooms, no pre-kindergarten.

“Space is the biggest deficiency,” Whitfield said. “The second is that the heating and ventilation system is extremely noisy in some classrooms. With the present design, there’s not a way to mitigate that.”

He added, “We are excited about the idea that we would have the space we need.”

The community loves the school, and some worry about plans to reconfigure elementary schools for three neighborhoods.

The School Committee will form a committee to explore, with community input, creating new pre-kindergarten to grade two schools at Longley and Farwell. The Farwell school would hold students from Farwell and Martel.

The new school would hold students from grades three to six from all three school neighborhoods.

In her third-grade classroom, Martel teacher Darlene Letourneau stood with 30-plus empty desks while her students were at lunch. Her class has 27 students, 33 when she teaches reading.

The heating system gets so noisy students can’t hear what she’s saying.

“It sounds like you’ve got pots and pans banging above your head,” she said. “I hear maybe 100 times a day, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.’”

But “that doesn’t mean we want a new building,” fellow third-grade teacher Jacqueline Hamann said.

Despite the overcrowding and the antiquated heating system, the two said they don’t want to lose the Martel community. Like others, they worry about blending students from other schools.

“It’s the building, the school, the administration, the people we work with, knowing the kids and the families we have,” Letourneau said. If they could have a new school with the same community, “we’d have no problem with a new building.”

Superintendent Webster said building a new school for only Martel students would not address concerns of the nearby, overcrowded Longley Elementary School, which is further down the state construction list.

If done right, a new school could address problems with both schools in one project, while reducing overcrowding at the three elementary schools, he said.

“The process will be one of consensus-building,” Webster said. “We’ll go through that and see where it takes us.”


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