This illustration shows what the new Edward Little High School will look like when it opens in 2023. Auburn School Department

AUBURN — After years of talking and planning, Auburn is getting a new $122 million Edward Little High School in 2023.

Voters mark their ballots at Washburn Elementary School in Auburn on Tuesday morning. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Auburn voters overwhelmingly said yes Tuesday to building a new high school in a city referendum.

Built with mostly state dollars, it will be the most-expensive high school in Maine, with a wing for career and technical programs, room for 1,100 students, geothermal heating and cooling, a top-notch athletic stadium with a turf football field and a 1,200-seat performing arts center.

With a voter turnout of 16 percent, unofficial results Tuesday night show Auburn voters approved the school by strong margins in two ballot questions.

Residents voted 2,272 to 360 in favor of Question 1, which asked voters to approve a new Edward Little, to be built with $105.9 million in state money and $5.6 million in local money.

Residents also voted 1,863 to 741 in favor of Question 2, which asked voters to approve spending another $10.5 million in local money for a state-of-the-art athletic facility and a 1,200-seat performing arts center.

“Yes!” yelled Edward Little High School Principal Scott Annear, as he and others cheered after the votes came in.

“Both questions passed!” said a happy Superintendent Katy Grondin.

“The community spoke loud and clear that they’re excited about this project and this opportunity for our students, staff, families and the community at large,” Grondin said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we took it.

“It’s going to be so exciting when we break ground by the spring of 2021. We’re just ecstatic. The hard work that went into this, from the building committee to administration to staff and everyone who helped get the word out, it speaks volumes to the community. We so appreciate their support.”

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said he was “very pleased” with the vote.

“A high school of this caliber, including the career and technical education wing, the athletic and performing arts facilities, will be a transformative event in the city,” he said.

Levesque said the new school will heighten economic development here and bring about a higher quality of life.

“We will have more people moving here and corresponding businesses,” he said.

Voters interviewed Tuesday at Auburn Middle School said they supported a new high school.

“The facilities are lacking,” said Jenna-Rae Brown, a mother of three and graduate of Edward Little.

Brown voted for Question 1 and Question 2, saying she supports the arts and Auburn needs improved athletic fields that will all be located at the school.

“All my kids play sports,” she said. ” It’s important to have centralized sporting facilities. In Auburn, they’re pretty scarce.”

Sabrina Alaimo said she voted yes on Question 1, “but I voted no on the extras,” the athletic stadium and performing arts center.

“We need a new high school, there’s no question about that,” Alaimo said. “But do we really need extra fields and an arts center when people are struggling financially?”

Audie Conrad voted yes on both questions. His 45th Edward Little High School reunion is coming up, he said.

“The place was a dump in ’74,” Conrad said. “The future of this community has to be in education. The mills aren’t coming back.”

A new high school will attract more families, who are needed, he said, adding Maine is the oldest state in the nation and among the poorest.

“If we don’t bring people in and retain people,” he said, “we’re not going to be able to afford my generation’s retirement.”

Melissa Delehanty also voted yes on both questions.

“I’ve got a kid who will hopefully be the freshmen class in the new school four years from now. It’s absolutely needed,” she said. “We need to nurture the education of our children and our community.”

The new school will be built next to the existing high school on Harris Street, a site that was popular with residents given its central location in the city.

Construction will happen while students attend school at the existing building. Demolition of the old building will happen after the new school opens.

The school will mean taxes on a property valued at $150,000 will increase by $94 in 2023-24, the year the school opens.

Voters also approved the proposed $45.3 million 2019-20 school budget for Auburn by a margin of 2,198 to 423.

Jeffrey Keenan made no secret that he was voting no Tuesday morning at Washburn Elementary School while talking with Bob Cavanagh, left and Claire Amero as he picked up his ballot. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham