ELLSWORTH, Maine — The lines on the parking lot have been painted and the pile of boxes in the new gymnasium are slowly finding their way into the classrooms in one wing of the renovated Ellsworth Middle School, which will open Friday for pupils in grades four to eight.
“By tonight, the gym will be empty and we’ll be cleaning the floors,” said Bill Nelson on Wednesday, a member of the school custodial staff which, with teachers and staff, has been working for the past two weeks to get the building ready for pupils.
Work on the $35 million project began last summer and included a complete renovation of the former Ellsworth Middle School and the addition of a new wing which remains under construction. Katrina Kane, assistant superintendent for the new Regional School Unit 24, praised the efforts of all the school staff and the general contractor, JCN Construction.
“They’ve done a fantastic job to get us in on time and on budget,” Kane said Wednesday.
The crews gutted the old middle school building and rebuilt the school around bits and pieces of that structure. The new main entrance is on Pond Avenue.
“They wanted to keep the old gym columns,” said John Famolare, JCN’s superintendent for the project. “Everything had to be adapted around that. It was a challenge.”
Those columns now decorate several of the new classrooms that now occupy that space.
“It doesn’t feel like a renovation,” said grade seven teacher Laurie Mattila as she rearranged the new science room. “It feels like brand new.”
The excitement showed on the faces of teachers as they raced to get their rooms ready for the first day of school. Almost to a person, they expressed the thrill of teaching in an essentially new building equipped with 21st century technology.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Mary Jordan-Carter, a fifth-grade teacher with 23 years experience, 22 of them spent at the old Moore School. “This is top of the line. It’s beautiful.”
Jordan-Carter said the new technology offers teachers the opportunity to do things that were not possible in the old building.
“I don’t think we know what all the possibilities are yet,” she said. “We’re going to have to learn more about it as we go.”
The school is specially wired for the technology, which includes new audio-visual equipment built into each room so that DVDs, VHS tapes and audio can be played through speakers mounted on the wall and projected onto an interactive white board on the wall, according to April Clifford, the technology director for RSU 24.
“That eliminates the need for televisions,” she said.
The interactive whiteboard also can be connected to a computer and becomes a screen that also can be written on and also serves as a mouse, Clifford said.
“If you have a map on the wall, you can write on it, and you can save it as a file for students who aren’t there,” she said. “Anything you can do with a mouse, you can do it on the board.”
Instrumental and classroom music teacher Cathy Tracy said technology is an exciting addition to the classroom that will involve more students.
“The students can go up and use the board,” she said. “If they’re composing music, they can go to the board and move a note. Anything they’re doing they can do it by just touching the board. It’s a way to interact with more students and it’s very fast.”
The school is participating in the state laptop computer program and has expanded it on its own to include the sixth grade in addition to grades seven and eight, so that the entire middle school population of sixth- to eighth-graders will be “1-to-1” with each pupil having his own laptop.
The school was designed as a “green” building and makes use of some passive elements, including a lot of natural light. It also has a geothermal heating system that draws on 76 wells that pump warmer water through the radiant heating system in the floors to provide heat for the building.
Some of the classrooms and other areas are temporary locations for this year only, according to Kane. Once the new wing of the building is completed, those areas will be rearranged to accommodate the students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The new wing is completely sealed off from the renovated wing and construction will continue throughout the coming school year.
According to Kane, the new wing is expected to be completed sometime next summer.