LEWISTON — A plan to spend $60,000 on a concept study for a proposed Lewiston High School Visual and Performing Arts Center was given unanimous approval by the City Council on Tuesday.

But the funding for the study is just the first step on a long road for supporters of the project, which would build an expansion at the high school for classrooms and performance space. 

During a City Council workshop last week, high school music teacher Darren Avery said that when the school was built in 1972, it didn’t have an auditorium or designated space for art or music. In the ’70s, the school turned basement storage space into classrooms, which is where the arts wing remains, Avery said.

According to the council memo, the School Committee, the School Department’s Facilities Committee and an ad hoc committee established to evaluate the visual and performing arts spaces at the high school, “have all concluded that they are seriously inadequate to meet the needs of these programs and the students they serve.” 

City Council approval was required because the funding will be transferred from a previously approved parking lot expansion project at the high school included in the Capital Improvement Plan. 

Superintendent Bill Webster said Tuesday that the funding will be used to develop a concept study — and a potential price tag — for the project with an architect.

He told the council that the plan is “very exciting,” but that the concept study “doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.” Instead, he said, it gives the school district a plan and potential budget, after which the committees could solicit private donations and come back to the city. 

Councilor Michael Lachance told the council that he supports the project but took issue with the way it was handled.

“The way this has come about is poor government,” he said, referring to the shuffling of already approved funding for capital projects.

For more than an hour last week, teachers, parents, residents and Lewiston High School graduates, some of whom live out of town, showed up to ask for the arts center study. Some argued that the arts support economic development. 

Webster had previously given an estimate in the range of $10-15 million but said that was not based on an architect’s analysis. 

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