LEWISTON — The Lewiston School Committee voted Tuesday to build big: a 950-student elementary school for pupils now attending Martel and Longley.

The committee agreed with a Redistricting Committee recommendation to build a new school and to take students from other overcrowded elementary schools in the city.

If the new school is approved by Lewiston voters later this year or next, it would be among the largest elementary schools in Maine.

During the past four months, the Redistrcting Committee has considered the size and scope of the school and has debated the pros and cons of a big school.

While many favor the idea of a small, neighborhood school, two factors weighed heavily for a bigger school. It would allow space to create smaller class sizes citywide and would meet the needs of more students — and the state would pay for 95 percent of the construction.

If the city built a school that left out Longley, considered a sub-par school with a population of too many English Language Learner students and not enough diversity, city taxpayers would have to pay for Longley renovations, which would cost millions of dollars.

School Committee member Linda Scott, who chaired the Redistricting Committee, spoke passionately about the city’s will, talent and ability to build a school that would help all students and would be a school of which the city would be proud.

Scott said she had done research, read parents’ comments and considered what this means for the city. “I understand the importance of recognizing that we are going to have to staff this school,” she said. “This is something very new to our community.”

She said she was a transient kid. “I moved 17 times before I was 19 years old. I started thinking that Lewiston is our neighborhood. It’s not just Pettingill. It’s not just Martel. It’s not just Farwell. It’s not just Longley. It’s the city of Lewiston is our neighborhood. I started thinking about the future for all of the kids, not just Pettingill, Montello, McMahon, the whole community. Nobody’s looking at this and saying, ‘What an opportunity this could be. We could change the image of our schools by having this wonderful new school.’”

Longley parents want their children to go to a school like the other schools, Scott said. “And Longley is not like the other schools. More than anything else, they want an education like everybody else has. We should offer that opportunity to every child in this community. I welcome this opportunity.”

Voting for the larger school were Scott, Jim Handy, Tom Shannon, Jama Mohamed, Cynthia Mendros and student representative Sophie Mitchell. Voting against was Matthew Roy.

Before the vote, parent Sheri Cloutier shared concerns about the quality of education of such a large school, as well as higher operational costs, where the school would be built, and concerns that the state would provide only one cafeteria and one gym for such a large school.

Taxpayer Jacqueline Smith said Martel has to be replaced and Longley has to be renovated, but she’s “totally against combining both schools into a larger school.”

Her concern was cost. Even if the state pays for the construction, Longley will eventually be renovated for another use, such as an alternative high school, and the annual school budget will rise as more teachers and education technicians are hired to create smaller classes.

Those costs “are going to be long-term expenses added to the school budget year after year,” Smith said.

Next, a Site Committee will study and recommend where to build the school, which ideally would be in the Martel or Longley neighborhood. That recommendation could happen this spring. Longley is in the inner city; Martel is on Lisbon Street.

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