LEWISTON — The Lewiston School Committee on Monday night unanimously approved a six-classroom modular at Farwell Elementary School for the fall of 2016.

Martel Elementary School teacher Erin Breau said she had 29 students in her sixth-grade class last week.

On Monday, one more came in.

Lewiston’s student population — which seems to grow daily — is 5,517.

Plans to handle the surge of new students — 263 this fall, which is 130 more than projected — will include a new building at Farwell Elementary School.

The estimated cost is $1.7 million, much of it likely paid for through a bond. There’ll be some state funding available, but likely no more than 30 percent, Webster said, and that won’t include things like phone systems.

The extra costs come outside the normal budget cycle, Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said.

He’ll share the plans for the Farwell modular with the Lewiston City Council and the Lewiston Planning Board, which would need to approve the project.

Meanwhile, the 263 new students are being handled with extra classrooms created by some schools by converting resource rooms or teachers’ rooms to classroom space.

There’s a portable classroom at McMahon Elementary that wasn’t there before, despite a new school wing that opened two years ago.

“Some of our English language learner teachers are sharing spaces with other teachers,” Webster said. “It’s just showing up in many ways.”

A demographic study projecting future student numbers in Lewiston last December was the third time a professional study got it wrong, he said.

“It does show the challenge,” Webster said. “Most demographers are used to looking at birth records. They really have trouble accessing the ins and outs with mobile populations as well as immigration.”

Of Lewiston’s 263 new students this fall, more than 100 are children from immigrant families.

“These are children of people who have been in the United States less than three years and have moved to Lewiston,” Webster said. “These are students who may have very limited English skills.” They will need support, he said.

Some students are from Somali families; others, from other African countries, including Angola, Kenya and Chad.

Word appears to be spreading that Lewiston is a good place to live, Webster said. “It seems like Lewiston is the destination of choice.”

The 100 new immigrant students is also more than what was expected.

“I’m concerned about our ability to know what’s going to happen,” Webster said.

He said the solution for this year is the Farwell plan. If growth continues, it will make it difficult, if not impossible, to reduce class sizes.

The 100-plus students are sprinkled throughout the grades, including 40 Lewiston High School students.

The increase of students caught everyone by surprise.

“For us to have 263 more is the biggest jump since I have been here,” Webster said.

In recent years, Lewiston has gained 100 new students a year. That has crowded schools.

Webster said he’s pleased the School Committee supported a six-classroom building at Farwell. But Webster wonders what will happen if more students keep coming.

“If we have another influx like this, I’m very concerned about enough space,” he said. 

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