Lewiston to study options for 87-year-old high school

LEWISTON — After two attempts failed to pass a $52 million bond to build a new high school, Lewiston School District leaders went back to the drawing board, literally.

District trustees, who may eventually decide to float a third bond, now are considering remodeling the existing 87-year-old high school. To gain more information on costs and feasibility, they hired new architects and are in the process of selecting a construction management firm to add to the evaluating team.

“We asked them to take a hard look at the old facility to help us solidify what the real issues are, including what would have to be addressed if we chose to remodel instead of building new,” said Board President Brad Rice.

The team of LKV Architects in Boise and RGU Architecture in Lewiston conducted a feasibility study of Lewiston High School and presented the results to the board this past June. The issues they uncovered ranged from structural integrity of the buildings, to non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, to traffic patterns and parking.

Lewiston High, built in 1928, is a three-story structure with no elevator access to the third floor. The cafeteria is offset below the level of the first floor, with steps leading down to it. Students and teachers who need to access the elevator must go around to the back of the building.

“It’s just the nature of an old building,” said Superintendent Bob Donaldson, who served as Lewiston High’s principal from 2005-2011.

Doorways in the old building are narrow and some exterior doors are recessed in alcoves, making them inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. The classrooms are only 600 square feet compared to 900-square-foot rooms in newer school buildings.

“It’s just not fun for students with physical disabilities to get around the campus,” said Assistant Superintendent Lance Hansen, who worked at Lewiston High for five years as assistant principal and principal.

The architects told the board that remodeling could not entirely remedy the shortcomings. While navigating within the buildings is challenging, gaining access from the outside presents a different concern.

“There are lots of entrances,” Donaldson said. “It’s very difficult to ensure safety and security from unauthorized access.”

A shortage of space is another pressing issue. Although high school enrollment has dipped from a high of 1,296 students in 2007 to 1,158 this year, the campus has four modular buildings to add five additional classrooms. Students in physical education classes are bused to a local fitness facility.

Plus, district leaders would like to add about 400 ninth graders to Lewiston High so they would have access to more academic benefits not offered at the two junior high schools — electives such as foreign languages, band and art, and dual credit and advanced placement classes.

The board has heard from patrons who feel strongly in favor of keeping the high school at its present location, rather than building a new facility on land the district owns in The Orchards area of Lewiston. But the current urban setting is not without its drawbacks. RGU Architecture used an aerial photograph overlaid with traffic routes to show the multiple interactions among bus, car, bike and pedestrian traffic around and through the campus.

In addition, venues for various activities, including soccer, softball, baseball and track and field, are located off-campus at various locations throughout the city.

“All of those crisscrossing traffic patterns present a real safety concern,” Hansen said.

The architects estimate the cost of new construction will run $220 to $225 per square foot. Refurbishing existing facilities could add $50 or more per square foot, due in part to the need to use temporary classrooms during remodeling. The board expects the team of architects and construction management to firm up the cost estimates in the next two months. Trustees will then share that information with the community and gather public feedback.

Donaldson praised the board for taking a step back to fully assess the current conditions and analyze the options. “The board is being very methodical and intentional in its decision-making process,” he said.

Rice said he hopes a thorough and thoughtful process not only will lead the board to select the best option, but also will persuade voters to support the board’s final decision.

In the failed elections of 2010 and 2011, Rice said some voters supported a new school but felt the dollar amount requested was too high.

“Other constituents said yes to a new high school, but not until we have a clear plan for what to do with the existing property,” he said.

Rice said the board could make a decision by early next year and a new bond proposal would likely not surface until May of 2016.