Lavallee Bresinger Architects’ concept design of a new classroom wing at Lewiston High School. Lavallee Bresinger Architects image

LEWISTON — A proposal to build a new classroom wing and entrance at Lewiston High School could reach voters this fall if the City Council forwards the plan next week.

Officials received a detailed presentation Tuesday night from the Building Committee, which said the $13.4 million plan is a needed investment in the aging school, especially for arts and special education classroom space and security.

Some councilors said they are in favor of sending the proposal to referendum. At least two, however, said they are concerned with the price tag, combined with rising school budgets.

The architect’s presentation described the project as creating a more secure entrance to the high school and better space for students in multiple programs, including arts and music, special education and literacy and language.

Most of those classroom uses are housed in the basement, which was not designed for classrooms. Students on Tuesday described the basement as “the dungeon,” which they said is not conducive to music or art.

One student, who participates in band, jazz and songwriting, said one jazz ensemble calls itself “claustrophobic jazz” due to its practice space.

The Building Committee said the arts wing was included in the initial 1971 design for the school, but was ultimately cut, along with a proposed pool. At the time, the school cost about $8 million.

The two-story wing of 20 classroom spaces would have an elevator along with the new entrance space, which would be designed to improve security.

The first floor plan shows arts and music spaces like instrumental music, choral music, ceramics, drawing and painting, digital media and photography. The second floor would feature about 10 classrooms, with a dedicated drama classroom.

Building Committee members said the original look at building a performing arts center would have cost $28 million, and that the additional classroom space was a bigger priority.

“The more we looked at it, we realized there were unfulfilled needs,” Building Committee member Bruce Damon said.

He said there are 17 teachers who use carts to take their materials from classroom to classroom because they have no dedicated spaces to teach.

Architect Lance Whitehead said the project was designed to “fit as many needs as possible,” including alleviating classroom space for special education, which is also housed in the basement.

“We’re taking some of the most sensitive kids in the district and giving them the most insensitive space,” he said.

Building Committee member Robert Reed said rising steel and construction costs are playing into the cost estimate, but he argued now is the time to invest in the school before costs go up even more.

For a home valued at $150,000, the projected tax impact of the project would equate to a $72 increase.

Councilor Michael Marcotte said it could be difficult to “convince the electorate” to sign off on the project.

“The people paying the tax bill are being pinched,” he said, “and if they pack up and leave, who’s paying?”

Councilor Zack Pettengill also questioned the timing of the project, as the new Connors Elementary School next to the high school is set to open.

“I understand the need for the project, but the price tag is astronomical to ask taxpayers on top of school budget increases,” he said.

Mayor Kristen Cloutier said she will be in favor of sending the proposal to referendum “so voters get to decide whether this is a reasonable cost.”

According to Finance Director Heather Hunter, the City Council will need five affirmative votes during its May 21 meeting to accept the project and send it to referendum.

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