The former Martel Elementary School at East Avenue and Lisbon Street in Lewiston will be redeveloped once the city finalizes a sale to Lewiston Housing Authority and Avesta, who have proposed a senior housing project for the property. Sun Journal 2019 file photo

LEWISTON — The city will begin negotiations for the sale of the former Martel Elementary School after the City Council unanimously supported a proposal to redevelop the site into senior housing.

Over the last month, elected officials have been mulling three redevelopment proposals, and councilors said Tuesday that they each received overwhelming public feedback in support of a plan by the Lewiston Housing Authority and Avesta Housing that would turn the school into 44 senior housing units.

The school on the corner of Lisbon Street and East Avenue closed in 2019 as the school department was set to open the brand new Connors Elementary, and the site was transferred to city control.

“We absolutely need more housing. This is really community-driven,” said Councilor Luke Jensen on Tuesday. “Given where we are as a city, this is the best solution.”

Officials representing all three proposals pitched their ideas during a council workshop earlier in February. The three bids received by the city came from the Lewiston Housing Authority and Avesta Housing; David Gendron from Gendron & Gendron in Lewiston; and Auburn SHAREcenter, a nonprofit school program that collects materials to be reused by schools or other programs.

On Tuesday, officials said the Avesta proposal, which would restore the original 1922 school structure into apartments, was the most concrete plan.

Members of the public, including Ronnie Paradis, said affordable senior housing is sorely needed, and that the proposal “checks all the boxes” for senior housing.

“Older Americans are at greater risk for social isolation,” she said, adding that Martel is on the bus line and is closer to the downtown area and services.

Lewiston resident Matt Roy said the Avesta proposal was the only plan to meet all six criteria of the city’s request for proposals.

According to the proposal, Avesta would demolish the newer single-story wing of classrooms and auditorium to make way for new construction. The project would also include a recreation easement for the city to use the green space. Lewiston Housing would pay $129,000 for the property.

Lisa Rodrigues, director of SHAREcenter, which is currently using the space, told councilors Tuesday that the school could be used as a community hub that could partner with Lewiston Recreation to expand after school and summer programs.

While councilors were sympathetic to the organization’s work, some were concerned for the long-term viability of the building. Jensen, a former School Committee member, said the school barely made it through its last year as mold and other issues crept up.

“That building is too much of a liability,” he said.

City Administrator Ed Barrett said that given the timeline of the project, which is still some 18 months away, SHAREcenter will be able to continue using the space until a more permanent home is found.

The Avesta project is expected to cost roughly $11.5 million.

“Being a new councilor, this is the most communication I’ve received,” said Councilor Lee Clement about the feedback from the public.

He said 75% of the calls he received were in favor of the senior housing proposal.

Gendron’s proposal would have razed the site for an undetermined commercial redevelopment.

Despite the support for the housing proposal, councilors said they are also concerned for pedestrian safety in the area, which sees a high volume of traffic.


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