Auburn voters raise cards in a straw poll Wednesday night to indicate their support for building a $125.8 million high school. The vote and informational meeting were held in the gym at Edward Little High School. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

AUBURN — A straw poll on whether to build a $125.8 million high school easily won support from voters Wednesday.

EL band director and music teacher Bill Buzza addresses a question from the crowd during Wednesday night’s straw poll meeting in the gym at Edward Little High School. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Residents voted 197-12 in the nonbinding vote, which was required by the Maine Department of Education to gauge community support.

Before the vote, Harriman architect Mark Lee said if the project wins voter approval in June, the 280,000-square-foot school would open in 2023. It would have room for 1,100 students, 100 more than the current school.

It would be on the same site as the current high school at 77 Harris St. The front doors would be near the gym entrance. The three-story classroom wing would be built around a courtyard to give hallways, the library and classrooms natural light.

Architect Lisa Sawin said there would be one entrance for limited access and quick response by police, if they are needed.

The school would be a satellite of the Lewiston Regional Technical Center, offering career and technical training.

All athletic fields would be on the campus, and the building would have a geothermal heating and cooling system.

While some in the audience were skeptical of the proposed giant auditorium, Jennifer Lynch spoke of the benefits of it during Wednesday night’s straw poll meeting in the gym at Edward Little High School. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

The school would have a performing arts center “that would be the envy of theaters” in high school and colleges, Lee said. It would be used by outside organizations and considered “the living room of the community,” he said.

The state would pay $109.34 million. Another $16.46 million would pay for amenities not covered by the state, including a 1,200-seat performing arts center, athletic complex, extra parking and classroom space.

The local tax impact on a property valued at $150,000 would be $94 the first year the school is open, or 2023-24, plus $31 for higher school operational costs, for a total of $125. After that, the loan payment would go down each year, Lee said.

One woman asked if there would be stairways and elevators?

There would be two elevators, Sawin said.

Eric Brakey, a former state senator and 2018 Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, said the new school “is a long time coming,” and the geothermal heating and cooling system is a smart investment. He questioned the 1,200-seat auditorium.

“Wow. That’s really big,” he said, asking what it might feel like to be in a student production with a lot of empty seats.

Elliott Epstein also asked about the number of nonschool events expected, considering the costs. Such a large school should not be built for use only “six times a year for pep rallies and graduations,” he said.

High school music teacher Bill Buzza said the auditorium would be designed to make it feel like an intimate setting.

“We have been addressing those questions,” he said.

Superintendent Katy Grondin said Westbrook High School officials said that three years after building its large auditorium, it books a number of nonschool events that pay for operation of the auditorium.

Jennifer Lynch said too many people are underestimating “the talent we have.”

After being counted, the yes votes outnumbered the no votes during Wednesday night’s straw poll meeting in the gym 197-12 at Edward Little High School. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

“Our students put on amazing plays,” she said. “These kids are going to pack the house. Trust me.”

Auburn teacher and parent Melissa Sundell said she recently attended a concert at Greely High School in Cumberland, which recently built a 600-seat auditorium. Visitors were escorted past the auditorium and led into the gym, Sundell said, because the auditorium was not big enough.

State Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, asked what would be done to help taxpayers who could not afford the tax increase.

His question was not answered directly. Instead City Manager Peter Crichton asked Claxton to support efforts in the Maine Legislature to restore general revenue sharing to what it was before it was cut by former Gov. Paul LePage.

Also a local-option sales tax would give Auburn $7.6 million more a year, which would help with property taxes, Crighton said.

Resident John Wilson said the school is too expensive.

“People have champagne taste on a beer budget,” he said. “Auburn does well, but we’re going a little overboard.”

Jonathan Delorme, 26, a high school educational technician, said the school is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

We want it. We need it. It’s a good deal for us,” he said.

The project must be approved by the Maine Board of Education. Voters will will have the final say at the polls June 11.