LEWISTON — A straw poll vote of 72-0 Wednesday night showed strong support for building a new elementary school at Franklin Pasture.

The site must be approved by the State Board of Education. After that, a design of the school and a budget would be developed before Lewiston voters decide in a June referendum.

If approved, the school would combine Martel and Longley elementary schools’ students. It could hold 888 students and open in 2019.

Before the straw poll vote, groups were given rides to see the Franklin Pasture where the school would be built.

Driving one group of seven, Lewiston School Department Facilities Director Joe Perryman said the school may be built where a baseball field is near Lewiston High School. The driveway to the elementary school would come from Bartlett Street near Cumberland Avenue, or the top of Bartlett Hill.

Students walking to school from the Longley neighborhood would not have to walk up and down the steep Bartlett Street or near traffic. They would walk on a new road inside Franklin Pasture surrounded by trees and grass. The road would not be steep. It would have security cameras and lighting, Perryman said.

Land surrounding the section of Franklin Pasture where the school would be built is undeveloped. When students look out windows, they would see the sky, green grass and trees, Perryman said as he drove.

“You could be in Baxter State Park,” Superintendent Bill Webster said to community members attending an informational meeting at Lewiston High School.

Interpretation headphones were provided to Somali parents.

Webster told the group that the straw vote was nonbinding, but “nonetheless important. It is one input the Maine State Board of Education will consider when they decide whether they’re going to support moving forward on this project on this site” on Nov. 10.

Resident Elizabeth Eames asked what would happen to the Martel and Longley buildings when the new school opens.

Webster said those decisions weren’t yet known, that Longley could be used to house an alternative high school. “But maybe that ought to be in Martel and we do something else with Longley.”

Resident Joe Philippon asked about current growing enrollment in Lewiston, plans to build a six-classroom modular at Farwell Elementary and whether the new school would be large enough.

Webster said the new school would be built for 888 students. Longley and Martel populations now include 750 students. There would be room for about 140 more.

Even with this fall’s surge of 263 new students in Lewiston, it’s not expected to affect the new school because this year’s new students are in grades higher than those who would attend the new school.

“And we’re talking four years away,” Webster said. “We’re feeling comfortable we’re going to have sufficient space to meet our long-term needs.”

Heidi Sawyer praised what she saw on the tour, saying one of her bigger concerns about students walking safely on Bartlett Hill had been addressed. 

After the vote, Anab Diriye, a parent with five children at Longley, said through interpreter Siad Shaleh that she was happy with the proposed site. She liked that it would be a new school close to her home. “She’s expecting her children will do well,” Shaleh said.

Craig Saddlemire said he liked what he heard about the school. “I’m really impressed. The group who worked on this was able to balance a lot of different considerations and put forward something that is building support from the people who care enough to come out.”

Site Committee member Ronnie Paradis said she was excited about the unanimous straw poll vote.

“Now we can go forward knowing where the site is going to be and plan for it,” she said.

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