BREWER, Maine — Teachers at the new Brewer Community School, the largest elementary-middle school in the state, are setting up their classrooms in preparation for the start of school in a little more than two weeks.
“It was a little unusual to see 20 years of teaching in boxes on the floor,” veteran fourth-grade teacher Rhonda Geaghan said Friday while standing in her new classroom.
The new 156,000-square-foot school “is amazing. It really is,” Geaghan said. “It’s quite overwhelming and it’s exciting.”
A ribbon cutting, dedication and open house for the prekindergarten through grade eight school, located at 92 Pendleton St., is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 20, and is the first opportunity for parents and the general public to get a look at the building, which replaces five aging schools built between 1926 and 1962.
When visitors start their self-guided tours, “We’ll hand them maps of the building, because they’ll need them,” school board Chairman Mark Farley said Friday.
The new school has 71 classrooms and can accommodate 1,050 students. It has five separate wings for the different age groups with shared areas in the middle of the building for such things as the cafeteria, gym and media center or library.
“It will be like five little schools in one big, large building,” Farley said. “It’s not going to be mass confusion in there. It’s departmentalized.”
Each of the five wings will house two classes, Lester Young, owner’s representative for the new school, said last month while giving a tour of the massive building.
“Each wing has a different theme” that is tied to the city’s history and “each classroom has a historic picture with some picture from Brewer’s past,” he said. “It’s neat.”
Prekindergarten and kindergarten students will head to the river wing, which is located at the front of the building, to the right of the front doors. First- and second-graders will go to the ice wing, third- and fourth-graders have the paper wing, fifth- and sixth-graders will sail to the maritime wing, and seventh- and eighth-graders will go to the brick wing, which is lined with Brewer-brick colored tiles.
WBRC Architects-Engineers of Bangor designed the school, and local construction company Nickerson & O’Day built the estimated $33.4 million school and attached 488-seat performing arts center.
Construction crews matched colors throughout the school wings to their themes — blue paint and desk chairs for the river wing, green for paper, terra cotta for the brick — and added details whenever possible, Young said.
For example, in the ice wing the ceiling is “jagged and askew,” he said. “It’s supposed to represent the movement of the ice.”
Light and energy efficiency play important roles in the new school. Sunlight flows into the back of each classroom through specially designed unseen windows and reduces the need for interior lights to be turned on, Superintendent Daniel Lee has said.
“Teachers don’t turn on lights in their rooms,” he said. “They’ll be controlled by photoelectric cells” that sense when light is needed.
Lights will not turn on if no one is in the room, Lee said, adding that every measure has been taken to make the massive school as energy-efficient as possible.
Geaghan, who has taught out of a portable classroom at State Street school for the last six years, said, “It’s going to be really nice to have our entire team together in one area.”
The longtime teacher said the new school will provide “a wonderful chance to tie in the Community of Caring values,” and will provide a great opportunity for sharing resources.
“When you have separate schools you can’t have a fourth-grader read to a second-grader,” she said.
Geaghan, whose paper wing classroom is on the second floor and overlooks a playground, said she can see students already playing on the equipment and hear parents “talking about how exciting it is.
“They feel connected already,” she said.
The dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony will commence at 10 a.m. and the public self-guided open house tours runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Light refreshments will be served in the cafeteria.