ASHLAND, Maine — From new desks in the classrooms to new pots and pans in the kitchen, the Ashland District School is both state-of-the-art and top-of-the-line.
“Other than some textbooks and the teachers’ personal belongings for their classrooms, everything is brand-new,” said Sheila Lyons, chair of the SAD 32 board. “We have all new furniture — student desks, teacher desks, tables and chairs — right down to new tables and trays in the cafeteria. The kitchen is top-notch. I’d go back and cook that’s how beautiful the kitchen and cafeteria are.”
A little more than two years ago — Aug. 19, 2008, to be exact — the first scoops of dirt were turned over in an official groundbreaking ceremony on the site of the new Ashland District School. On Wednesday, students observed the first day of classes in the new pre-K-to-grade-12 school.
SAD 32 Superintendent Gehrig Johnson said both the Ashland Central School and the Ashland Community High School were in poor condition.
“Because we had a new school pending, no action was taken against us,” he said. “That’s the only reason the buildings weren’t condemned. However, there was no compromising on any safety issues; it was always safe to be in the building … they were just in rough shape.”
Had the state not approved SAD 32’s application to construct a new school, the district would have been forced to renovate the former structures to the tune of about $8 million — $5 million at the high school and $3 million at the elementary school — so they would “pass code.”
The new Ashland District School, which was designed by Lewis & Malm Architecture of Bucksport, is about 87,000 square feet and cost nearly $22 million. All but about $1 million will be paid by the state.
In addition to a regulation-size gymnasium and the district’s first-ever auditorium, the school features 30 classrooms.
“The first floor is divided into two wings,” said Johnson. “Pre-K, kindergarten, first and second grade are on one wing, and grades three-five are on the other. Each of those wings has its own conference room. Also on the first floor is the auditorium, gymnasium, the industrial arts shops, the music and art rooms, all of the ad-ministrative offices, the library and cafeteria.
“The second floor — again two wings — one side is the middle school, the other side is the high school,” he said. “The building was designed so that each age level has their own space. They enter and leave the same door, but the interaction between the younger and older students will be minimal.”
Lyons, who taught kindergarten and first grade for 23 years in Ashland, said she’s sure the students are going to love the new art and music rooms.
“We’ve had a wonderful art teacher whose gone from classroom to classroom with paint and supplies, and now she’s going to have a nice, big art room,” she said, “and the music room is located behind the auditorium. Ashland’s always been known for its band and I think having the room to do what they do is going to allow them to shine.”
Johnson said the building has some “green” features and also is soundproof.
“They put an insulation membrane around the building; it’s very tight,” he said. “It was sprayed on, so it will be airtight in the wintertime. It was a $150,000 investment but will save a lot of fuel. The heating bill for this one building we expect to be half of what it was for the two buildings and the square footage is about 25,000 feet more in this building.
Because it’s new, tight and efficient, we should see quite a savings.”
The school’s lighting system is such that the lights are sensitive to motion.
“If it’s cloudy outside, the lights inside will get brighter, and vice versa,” said Johnson. “It’s a big cost savings.”
Lyons said she thought area residents “are going to be so in awe and so thrilled that their kids and grandchildren, their neighbors’ kids and any kids in their community are going to be able to go to that facility. I’m beyond excited about the new school.
“I’ve always said that the kids in Ashland deserve just as much as the kids in Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth. This school takes them from having probably one of the worst schools around to having undoubtedly the best facility.”