LEWISTON — In the first regular meeting of the new School Committee on Monday, members voted unanimously to move ahead on developing new athletic fields at Lewiston High School in anticipation of a new elementary school.

The vote allows designs for new fields to be developed before the city referendum in June asks voters to authorize a new elementary school near the high school.

The action was recommended by the Building Committee and the Maine Department of Education.

If voters say no to a new school in the June referendum after planning of the new fields has begun, the School Department would be on the hook for the architect’s bill, estimated at between $280,000 and $300,000.

If voters say yes to a new school in June, the design costs and new fields will be covered by the state.

Although moving ahead on the new athletic fields is a risk, not doing so has several drawbacks, officials said.

If the new fields and new school are not separated, work to build new fields would have to wait until after construction on the school begins.

Since the school would be built on existing athletic fields, that would mean it would be two years before home fields would be available to students, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

A two-year delay would mean high school teams would have no home fields for practices or games for two years; they would have to play at other schools during construction.

No home games would mean higher transportation costs to bus athletes to other schools.

By allowing Harriman Associates architects to start designing new fields now, the fields project would be ready to go to bid after the June referendum.

“What will happen sooner is the designing of the fields by the architect, and putting them out to bid before the June vote,” School Committee member Tom Shannon,  a member of the new school building committee, said.

The new fields would be complete in 2018, a year before the new school opens, Jeff Larimer of Harriman Associates said.

Separating the fields from the new school would be “very beneficial to the overall campus,” Larimer said. “It minimizes the disruption on the campus. Work would be going on and completed before construction of the new school.”

Committee member Benjamin Martin said he would not want to see students have no home games for two years. He said school officials need to inform and communicate to the public before the June referendum why the new school is the best option.

Resident Tina Hutchinson asked if the vote on separating the athletic fields from the new school could wait a month, allowing time for a separate public meeting on the issue.

“If you hold the vote tonight, you’re doing a disservice to yourself in communicating what the options are,” she said. “What would the delay be if you voted in a month?”

Hutchinson also suggested that the design of the athletic fields could wait until after the June referendum.

Webster said the issue has been well-publicized.

“This is the last opportunity for this board to make this decision, because the only way that Harriman Associates will have sufficient time to get the construction documents done (is) they need to start them now,” Webster said. 

The normal course of action is to wait until the new school project is approved in June, Webster acknowledged. But if the two were not separated, athletic fields would not go out to bid until a year from the upcoming spring. That would mean another year’s wait before any construction begins, creating a two-year period of construction — no home games and higher transportation costs to bus student athletes, Webster said.

New members on the committee, in addition to Martin, were Richard White, Francis Gagnon and Megan Parks. Linda Scott chaired her first regular meeting.


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