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Old Town High School’s $5.3 million art and science wing helps school keep accreditation

Posted Aug. 21, 2012, at 6:26 p.m.
Old Town High School science teacher Ed Lindsey and art teacher Rachel Betterley show off laboratory features and technology in the school's $5.3 million science and art wing. Work is nearing completion at the facility, where students will begin learning and researching in two weeks.
Old Town High School science teacher Ed Lindsey and art teacher Rachel Betterley show off laboratory features and technology in the school's $5.3 million science and art wing. Work is nearing completion at the facility, where students will begin learning and researching in two weeks. Buy Photo

OLD TOWN, Maine — Early in 2011, Old Town High School was at risk of losing its accreditation because of its outdated labs and aging portable classrooms.

Now, the school is home to a 15,600-foot expansion that will house new lab space and art classrooms. The new $5.3 million wing will house six science labs, two art rooms and an applied sciences lab. Construction began about a year ago.

Art teacher Rachel Betterley and science teacher Ed Lindsey said Monday that designers worked closely with school staff to shape the classrooms and labs space around the ideas of the instructors.

Betterley will go from teaching in the school’s old cafeteria to a state-of-the-art room that incorporates her ideas and the ideas of her colleagues, including details as minute as holes in the exposed overhead beams that will allow teachers to hang items from the ceiling.

Energy-efficient lights that adjust their brightness according to the amount of sunlight in the room and shut off when no movement is detected are installed throughout the building. Lighted display cases line the hallways and high windows let in natural light.

For Lindsey, who recently won a national award for involving his students in a research project that studies dragonflies to glean information about mercury levels in the environment, the new labs are all about learning by doing and investigating rather than just listening.

“When you walk in the door,” Lindsey said as he entered one of the second-floor labs, “you don’t think: That’s where I’m going to sit and that’s the board I’m going to be staring at the whole time.”

One of the rooms in the building is called the Collaborative Guest Office. It’s a place where scientists and researchers from outside the school will set up shop for anywhere from a few weeks to a year, allowing students, teachers and the scientists to work together on projects.

In its first year, the room will be home to a scientist who works with the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge in Alton, according to Lindsey.

Even the bathrooms in the wing differ from many other schools. All the restrooms in the wing are one-person, unisex facilities. The school hopes that this will prevent bathrooms from becoming a “hangout spot” for students.

Voters in RSU 34, which includes Old Town, Alton and Bradley, approved the expansion project in February of 2011.

The school district used no state funding for the project and received a zero-percent qualified school construction bond through the federal stimulus package, Walker has said.

In 2011, the school was at risk of losing its accreditation, because of its use of six 20-year-old portables as classrooms and its “1950s-era” science labs, which would have been too costly to renovate, according to the superintendent.

“This project takes care of all that,” Principal Scott Gordon said Monday. “It’s just a great learning space for our kids and a great teaching space for our instructors.”

Gordon said he was thrilled for the students, who deserved this new learning environment.

The school plans to hold an open house on the evening of Sept. 18, according to Gordon.

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