KENNEBUNK, Maine — From its facade on Fletcher Street, Kennebunk High School appears to be a distinctive New England school.
But looking a little closer, administrators say, paints a different picture, one that doesn’t match the school’s academic successes and goals.
“Our school looks so good from Fletcher Street. It’s a beautiful building and we don’t want to lose that facade. But the building doesn’t support our programs. Our programs are outstanding and I think they would be even above that if we had a facility that meets our needs,” said Principal Sue Cressey. “I don’t think the majority of the community understands how bad it is in here because it does look so good when they drive by. I think they would be appalled. Our community values its youth and when you walk through this building, you don’t sense that.”
That’s why students and staff at KHS are supporting a major renovation of the school, currently proposed at $53 million, which includes approximately $8 million for the school’s share of a performing arts center. It would be a reduced-scale version of the Southern Maine Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, which is moving forward separately and proposed to be funded privately, with a goal of raising $20 million. If fundraising for the performing arts center is successful, it would reduce the overall cost of the KHS renovation to $48.3 million.
Renovations are also proposed for Mildred L. Day School, at $11.32 million, and Kennebunkport Consolidated School, for $9.96 million.
The current, outdated KHS facility isn’t meeting the needs of students or staff, Cressey said. Among the concerns are safety and space issues, classrooms that are too small, difficult access for students in wheelchairs or on crutches, and an inability to support 21st century technology.
The renovated building would be built to meet the needs of 700 students, including renovating instruction spaces to proper size, an updated and centrally located library, a cafeteria that could fit the student population and restructured and updated athletic fields. There are currently 684 students at KHS.
The 1939 portion of the high school, most noticeably seen from Fletcher Street, will be preserved and renovated.
The Southern Maine Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, if private fundraising is successful, would be constructed adjacent to the high school, housing a new theater and all visual and performing arts classrooms.
In the current facility, there are 57 entrances which are difficult to secure when students must travel in and out of the building to reach, for instance, the outdoor portable classrooms where foreign language and health classes are held. In the portables, students and staff face fluctuating temperatures, can find communicating with others in the rest of the facility difficult, and must walk to the main building to use the restroom.
“Ultimately, at least once every day [the students] are outside,” Cressey said. “The kids are not in their heads. It’s boiling hot in one building and freezing cold in another. There is no consistency.”
Under the renovation proposal, the building would meet the needs of students without portables.
Students say they don’t use lockers because they are too small to hold all the books and essentials they need to get through the day. In one hallway, in a row of dozens of lockers, less than a handful had locks on them.
“I would be ripping my textbooks apart if I tried to squeeze them in,” said Junior Heather Kidwell.
In the current building, teachers must find ways of utilizing spaces that are too small for their needs and they have difficulty finding storage, as evidenced in one instance by band and theater equipment that takes up seats in the auditorium. The majority of band and theater equipment is stored in an old locker room, while in some hallways, a printer or chairs can be seen stacked on top of each other.
“I can honestly say every single space is being used,” Cressey said.
The area where the KHS band practices, set just off the auditorium, is too small for the entire 80-member group to gather there, Cressey said, meaning the first time they can practice a performance as a group is in the gymnasium earlier that day.
Like many other areas of the building, the band room has no ventilation or outlet for all the sound, so music director Ben Potvin has lifted out ceiling tiles in an attempt to circulate air and for “acoustic treatment.”
Cressey said administrators’ offices are in a remote location, not where they should be, “in the middle of things where administrators can interact with students.” If the renovation is successful, guidance, administration and other similar services would be offered near the school’s entrance, all in a central location.
“Everything you need is right there,” Cressey said. “Now, I sit in my office and I am totally isolated from student areas. I want to be in the middle of it.”
Under the renovation proposal, portions of the school building could be shut down at night, still leaving entrances to the gymnasium, library, cafeteria and other spaces that could be used by the school and broader community.
“That’s been a dream of ours for a long time,” Cressey said.
In spite of the current facility, Cressey said KHS programming has flourished, like the new STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math — initiative, in which participating students will be building a solar greenhouse as one of their projects.
“We’re doing these things that are just amazing,” Cressey said. “I don’t know how much longer we can do that.”