LEWISTON — After fielding questions from Farwell Elementary School parents, the Lewiston Redistricting Committee on Tuesday narrowed options as it worked toward recommending what kind of school should replace Martel Elementary.

Going big by building a 1,200-student school remained a strong contender, when considering the state would pay for 95 percent of it and it would ease crowding.

Options the committee voted to continue studying are:

• A new school for 800-900 students by combining Martel and Longley students; 95 percent of the cost would be paid by the state. A school of that size would not ease crowding city wide.

• A 1,200-student school by combining Martel and Longley students and easeing overcrowding city wide. It would be the largest elementary school in Maine, designed in “pods” to create small schools within a large school. A school of that size could cost $40 million to $50 million, of which 95 percent would be paid by the state.

• A 1,000-student school to replace Martel and ease crowding, but leaving Longley Elementary where it is. The new school would be built with state money; Longley renovations would be paid by Lewiston taxpayers.

Several parents asked what the different options would mean for class sizes or student services. Committee members said the goal is to build a new school that allows smaller class sizes because existing classes are too large.

One parent asked: Why not renovate Martel? Superintendent Bill Webster said the aging Martel has insufficient class space, not enough land, no ventilation and a poor heating system.

Committee members said building small makes no sense. With current student population, if Lewiston built an 800-student school, “we would be full on the very first day,” committee Chairwoman Linda Scott said.

“We’re growing,” committee member Tom Shannon said. A school of 800 would be counter-productive, he said.

Webster passed out new enrollment numbers and ideal class sizes. To get to class sizes of 20 at most schools, Lewiston would have a shortfall of space for 326 students. “We could build another Farwell today and not account for any new students,” Webster said.

A report on 10-year enrollment projections — being done by an outside company — will be taken up by the committee Dec. 16.

Several committee members talked about keeping Longley in its current location, building a new Martel school with state money and using proceeds from the sale of the Martel property on Lisbon Street to renovate Longley.

Linda St. Andre, the former principal of Longley Elementary, said building small “seems like a moot point” if Lewiston has the opportunity to relieve crowding in all schools by building a school for 1,200 with the state paying 95 percent.

Unless a large school is built, “we still have a problem,” St. Andre said. “Then that funding will fall on the taxpayers of Lewiston, which we know is not a good prospect.”

Farwell Principal Althea Walker, a member of the committee, brought up what she called “the elephant in the room:” the Longley students. Historically the Longley students come from poor families, and student performance is far below state averages.

In deciding the future school, what must be considered is: “What is going to be best for every single student?” Walker said. “Those kids down there,” the downtown students, was one reason past redistricting efforts failed, she said.

A school that takes care of all students is important, Walker said. Otherwise, to have some students in state-of-the-art classrooms and to leave others behind at Longley where planned renovations paid by local taxpayers never happen “would be like going back to the ’60s with segregation.”

The Redistricting Committee meets next at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 1. It is charged with recommending in January what kind of school to build. Plans call for the new school to open in the fall of 2018 or 2019.


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