BREWER, Maine — The five children of Brewer native Becki Burgess stood together on Saturday as they entered the new Brewer Community School — the largest elementary-middle school in the state — and said they couldn’t wait to get inside.
“I heard my classroom is upstairs,” said her second-oldest, sixth-grader Jaime Burgess.
The new 156,000-square-foot school was completed a couple of weeks ago and Saturday’s ribbon-cutting and open house was the first time local residents, including the Burgess family, have been given a chance to see the interior.
“I think it’s really exciting that they have a school with all age groups,” said Becki Burgess, who went to all of the schools that have been replaced by the new school.
Burgess, who graduated from Brewer High School in 1996, attended Capri Street School, Washington Street School, State Street School and Brewer Middle School, which were all built between 1926 and 1962.
“They needed a new school badly,” she said.
Four of her five girls are enrolled in the new school, and her oldest, Jordan, is a freshman at Brewer High. Her husband, Eddie Burgess, said the family lives nearby and have been watching the progress of the project every day.
With the new school, “all my girls get to stay together. It’s great,” Becki Burgess said.
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.
Each of the five wings will house two classes and each has a theme — ice harvesting, the Penobscot River, paper-making, maritime and brick — that is tied to the city’s history, Superintendent Daniel Lee said.
The entrance of each classroom has a historic picture with some picture from Brewer’s past, provided by the Brewer Historic Society, which was thanked by Lee for their contribution.
“It’s a beautiful, wonderful, unbelievable concept,” Mayor Joseph Ferris said. “It’s the biggest construction project in the city” that is “equivalent to Cianbro coming to town, Lemforder coming to town. It’s going to change our city.”
WBRC Architects-Engineers of Bangor designed the school, and local construction company Nickerson & O’Day built the school and attached 488-seat performing arts center.
At the ribbon cutting, Lee said both local businesses did a great job, and he also thanked the Brewer High School district trustees, Brewer School Committee and anyone who sat on a committee or gave of their time in the five years it took to plan and complete the school.
“I’m extremely proud of this final project,” he said.
Amanda Bost, who sits on the school board and was part of the community school building panel that spend hours upon hours making decisions about the new school, said after all the “oh boy, oh boy” moments in the last few years, “we have a really good finished product. I think it will be a real draw.”
With the separate elementary schools, “it was easy for things to fall through the cracks,” she said, adding that the new combined school adds continuity.
School board chairman Mark Farley thanked Charles “Dusky” Fisher, former state Legislator and longtime teacher, for his roll in getting the ball rolling in Augusta with the estimated $33.4 million school project and Lee from putting his “heart and soul” into the project.
“Last but not least, I want to thank the teachers, administrators and staff for getting this school ready,” Farley said.
“What a great new school,” he said earlier.
School in Brewer starts on Sept. 1 for elementary and middle school students.