HAMPDEN, Maine — More than 850 signatures adorn a white steel beam high above the construction site, one of dozens that form the bones of the new Hampden Academy.
The names will be covered eventually with brick, but they will always be there.
“It’s kind of strange because we won’t get to actually use it, but it’s cool because we get to make our mark,” said junior John Wilson, one of the names scrawled in black ink on the new school.
With major site work largely complete, initial construction has begun on the $51.6 million high school that is scheduled to be completed in June 2012 and opened to students that fall. Superintendent Rick Lyons and Assistant Superintendent Emil Genest said the construction has given the communities of SAD 22 something tangible to look forward to.
“Seeing the structure and how large it really is … it’s exciting,” Lyons said this week during a tour of the construction site.
The contractor, J&J Contractors Inc. of Lowell, Mass., has had as many as 100 workers on site in recent days setting the framework of the three-story building. Genest said the firm plans to install electricity soon, which will allow work to continue through the winter.
Although the contractor is from out of state, most of the subcontractors are Maine firms. Additionally, WBRC Architects and Engineers of Bangor designed the project.
Phase I, which began in the fall of 2009, encompassed a variety of improvements to the site between U.S. Route 1A and Route 202. That site work, which was done by Sargent Corp. of Stillwater, included utility infrastructure, tree clearing and road maintenance. Currently, Sargent is clearing and leveling land to build new athletic fields to accompany the school.
In November 2008, voters from Hampden, Newburgh and Winterport — the three towns that make up SAD 22 — passed a referendum to move forward with a new school. The project includes $45.4 million in funding from the state Department of Education and $6.2 million that will be paid for by taxpayers in the three towns.
The local share funds elements of the project that the state would not fully fund, including:
• A 900-seat performing arts center that could support the entire student body and faculty, estimated to cost $2.6 million.
• Expanded science classrooms and laboratories that meet national standards, estimated at $1 million.
• A gymnasium and wellness center with the same capacity as Hampden Academy’s existing Skehan Center, projected to cost $1.7 million.
• An efficient alternative-energy system that includes a geothermal component.
The project has included an upgrade to the entrance of Reeds Brook Elementary School off Route 1A, which now connects to the new school site to create a comprehensive campus, something Lyons and Genest found extremely attractive.
“The connectivity of all our schools from kindergarten to grade 12, that’s not something a lot of school districts have,” Lyons said.
“There will be no more walking across the street for football practice,” he said.
Once the new school is up and running, the existing Hampden Academy will move into its next chapter. The school district and the town of Hampden have been somewhat at odds about reuse, but Lyons said both sides attended a meeting earlier this week to discuss a compromise. He called the meeting productive.
A public forum on reuse of the existing Hampden Academy will be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 18.