Lance Whitehead, principal in charge at Lavallee-Brensinger Architects, talks about his company and the projects it has completed at other schools during a meeting Thursday night at Lewiston High School. Several dozen members of the public along with teachers and administrators in the school system came to hear about the possibilities and specifics of an arts wing at LHS. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — If you build it, they will come.

That’s the dream, anyway.

Roughly two dozen educators, students and others met with a pair of architects Thursday night to discuss plans for a new performing arts center at the high school.

The mood of optimism was obvious as the group got down to envisioning what the center would be like and how students would react to it.

“I think the project would be a success,” offered Lewiston School Superintendent Bill Webster, “if we have a significant increase in student interest in the arts.”

Darren Avery went Webster one better. As head of the high school’s Visual and Performing Arts Department, Avery is so sure that a new and improved center would draw student interest, he was willing to bet his salary on it.

“It’s going to happen,” Avery said. “I know it is.”

He’ll get no argument from high school junior Mackenzie Richard, an actress who described the current arts center as an abysmal place that’s dark, dingy and difficult to find.

“It’s a little depressing,” Mackenzie said, “when you have to go into the basement — into the dungeon — to get to your art class.”

When the school was built in 1972, it didn’t have an auditorium or designated space for art or music. The school turned basement storage space into classrooms, which is where the arts wing remains.

Like Webster and Avery, Mackenzie earnestly believes that a new and improved facility will draw students who might have otherwise remained oblivious to the arts.

“Their lives will be enriched because they added an art element,” she said. “If we have a big, beautiful facility, people are going to want to be a part of that.”

It was the first public meeting with a team from Lavallee-Brensinger Architects, a firm said to have designed more than $3 billion in new construction, including roughly 300 projects involving schools.

Lance Whitehead, an associate with the company’s Architect’s Educational Design Group, said there are six steps between the project kick-off and the rolling out of an actual plan.

“We’re at step two,” Whitehead told the audience. “We’re gathering information.”

And a lot of information was gathered, at least in the form of ideas. After the group was asked what it would take for them to deem the new performance center a success, people took to shouting out their ideas.

They want a facility that’s big enough to showcase the arts in Lewiston. They want it to be accessible, not only for those deeply entrenched in the arts community, but to relative outsiders, as well.

They want a spacious gallery, one illuminated by natural light. They want it to be welcoming and secure and inspiring. They want there to be space for dance and crafts, and they want a ‘wow’ factor — one that will become the envy of other school systems.

Several teachers said they would like to see the performing arts celebrated at the Lewiston High School as much as sports. They want the new facility to be self-promoting and to see the arts getting coverage in the local newspaper.

A few said they ardently hope that the new center would free up space in other parts of the school for other groups, such as students with special needs.

Whitehead assured them that is likely to happen. But he also reminded the group that it’s still early in the planning phase. Another public meeting is expected to occur in January, when details about cost and space and location may be discussed in greater detail.

The plan to spend $60,000 on the concept study for the proposed center was given unanimous approval by the City Council in October.

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.

An important step it was, though.

“This is a desire I’ve had for many years,” Avery said. “And now there’s momentum.”