A conceptual design shows some of the proposed $13.4 million expansion project at Lewiston High School, which would include a new entrance with up-to-date security and 20 classrooms. Lewiston School Department photo

LEWISTON — Voters will ultimately decide the fate of a proposed $13.4 million expansion project at Lewiston High School, after the City Council approved the bond order and referendum question Tuesday night.

More than a dozen members of the public, teachers, staff and current and former students spoke passionately in favor of the expansion during a public hearing Tuesday, arguing it would alleviate multiple deficiencies at the school.

Most have centered on the use of the basement for special education, music and performing arts, bad air quality and lack of proper security.

After hearing at least an hour of public comment, all supporting the project, the City Council voted 6-1 to appropriate $13.4 million in bonds and voted unanimously to place a referendum question on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster has said a successful vote will likely result in a spring 2020 construction start, with completion in late 2021.

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

The two-story wing of 20 classrooms 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 for 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.

Many who have advocated for the expansion for its impact on the school’s arts program have also pointed to the special education program, which is housed in similar conditions.

Teresa Nash, president of the Lewiston performing arts boosters, said people are surprised when they learn some students are being taught in the basement.

“It’s embarrassing,” she said. “It’s absolute hogwash that we’re forcing our respectable city to endure this.”

Rachel Nadeau, a special education teacher at the high school, said she has been at the school long enough to see the basement be “carved up into smaller and smaller” classrooms. She said her department’s “functional life skills” program, which accommodates some of the most needy and most vulnerable students, is in a room with only a window in the door.

“It’s not OK with me,” she said.

Resident J.R. Davis said the thought of students spending most of their day in a basement with no light and poor air quality “makes me sick to my stomach.”

Wayne Shaw, a high school student, said he started playing bass in fourth grade, and was one of many Tuesday who advocated that the arts can make a big difference for some students. He told the council the basement smells like ham and pancakes with syrup, “but the Great Value syrup,” not real maple syrup.

He said in his science class, his teacher keeps the windows open all year, with a series of fans in the windows, just to circulate the air.

School Committee member Luke Jensen, who also serves on its Facilities Committee, said the new entrance will also provide a “revitalizing” feel for a school that is nearing 50 years old.

Many have said the high school has held up well and been properly maintained over the years, but it is time to invest in needed upgrades — especially as enrollment numbers rise.

“I think when some of the most fiscally conservative voices in the city say it’s a sound investment, it should be considered,” he said.

Robert Reed, who served on the Building Committee, said the project began as a performing arts wing, but changed shape as the committee “recognized there were other needs.”

“We are able to accomplish a lot with one expansion,” he said.

Todd Finn, who will be the new Lewiston superintendent for the next school year, told the council he is “thrilled” to be a part of “what seems to be a renaissance” in Lewiston. He made a bold pitch to councilors about what the staff could accomplish with more breathing room.

“We’ll take it to a different level,” he said. “We will earn that expansion with the work that we will do.”

Councilor Michael Marcotte provided the lone vote against approving the bonds. Last month, Councilor Zack Pettengill also voiced concern for the project, calling the price tag “astronomical to ask of taxpayers on top of school budget increases.”


Comments are not available on this story.