HAMPDEN — The old Hampden Academy is in its final school year.

That 500-student-capacity school hit 700 students in the mid-1980s and now serves 800 students with the help of portable classrooms. But crowded hallways, packed classrooms, tight parking lots, and jammed-in buses will soon be memories, because the new Hampden Academy is nearing completion. At 190,000 square feet, it’s nearly double its predecessor’s size. It can handle 850 students, but was designed to be able to quickly add six more classrooms for another 200 students.

There’s plenty to be done, but the new school is taking shape. The main entrance sits beneath a tower designed to echo the 1843 structure at the front of the old Academy; many features, from the colors to the roof cornices to the window alignment to the federal fan, were designed as a homage to the old building.

Following a recent tour of the new site and building, HA senior Jasmine Deschesne talked about being the final class to graduate from the old Academy.

“It’s kind of bittersweet, but I’m glad we got to see [the new school] in this stage of development,” said Deschesne. “I wish we could have a year to experience it — not that I want another year of high school.”

“It’s almost like they thought of every little inconvenience that we had in the old high school, and they made enhancements just to make it so much better,” said Kate Cyr, another graduating senior.

Also on the tour was Quinton Donahue, a math teacher who knows the old building’s many challenges, such as teachers in his department being spread across the school and in portable classrooms. He’s excited about having his department all on one floor and with the abundant space in the new school.

“I guess you don’t really realize until you get in here and you see it for yourself just the size of the classrooms and the lighting … to me, that’s just amazing,” he said. “I’ve been here seven years, plus my student teaching, and I plan on staying for the rest of my career.”

Principal Ruey Yehle is thrilled, and admits to a bit of nervousness about moving into a new school, but she’s confident that the incredible amount of planning in the new building will make the transition easy. “Every time I walk through here I’m just impressed at the thought that has been put into this building,” she said.

While WBRC Architects & Engineers is the building’s designer, a special committee worked for months in early 2007 to guide the design. SAD 22 staff, school faculty, community members, and eventually students all put their ideas on the table, and WBRC designed the new school accordingly.

Yehle is especially thankful for the community support that has helped make the new school happen, including the taxpayers’ willingness to finance certain things that the state would not. “We are so grateful to the communities for seeing this and having a vision about it,” she said.

The $51.6-million facility is mostly funded by a bond from the Maine Department of Education, but SAD 22 had to fund some things on its own. Voters approved $6.2 million for things like the 900-seat performing-arts center, expanded science classrooms that meet National Science Foundation standards, a gymnasium the size of the existing Skehan Center, and an efficient energy system with a geothermal component that will save the district about $134,000 in annual oil costs.

Groundbreaking was in September 2009, and in early 2010 J&J Contractors of Lowell, Mass. won the bid for Phase II of the project at $28.4 million, $4.7 million less than SAD 22 was expecting. And although the contract went to an out-of-state company, all but one of the many subcontractors are from Maine, most in the Greater Bangor area.

Along with style and function, there’s plenty of pride being incorporated into the new facility. In 2010, with steel going up, a white beam signed by 850 people was raised high in the framework. On the second floor, a giant bronze medallion in the floor will depict the 1843 building and contain a time capsule. And with the bronze statue of the rearing bronco in front of the old Academy to remain there when the district likely turns the property over to the Town of Hampden, sculptor Forest Hart has offered to make a new one for the new school.

SAD 22 Assistant Superintendent Emil Genest, who led the tour, summed everyone’s feelings up about the new building: “We’re pretty excited.”