BELFAST, Maine — For several years now, Cornerspring Montessori School in Belfast has had a waiting list for children whose parents want them to be enrolled there.
The problem? The alternative education program that serves children from preschool to upper elementary school ages is running out of space in the former MBNA office building it has leased for seven years. The board of directors of the 14-year-old Montessori school thinks it has found a solution: build a new, permanent home on a 37-acre parcel of land purchased last fall for $85,000 on Outer Congress Street in Belfast.
A custom-designed, high-efficiency building would allow the school to grow and thrive, according to Sarah Tomalty and Scott Kelley, parents of Cornerspring Montessori students and part of the Journey Home capital campaign committee. They just began fundraising for the $2 million capital campaign, which includes nearly $1 million to construct the new building, more than $500,000 for land and site work and $200,000 for tuition assistance. The remaining $300,000 will be split equally between the capital reserve fund and the cost of the capital campaign.
“We feel like it’s an awesome opportunity,” Tomalty said this week. “We really feel there’s a lot of passion for the school. We feel the community values alternative education. So far, we’ve had an immense amount of support.”
At a time when communities seem hard-pressed to fund educational programs, $2 million might seem ambitious. But the group said in one month, it already raised $356,000 toward the goal, including an individual gift of a quarter-million dollars.
“We’re excited and encouraged,” Tomalty said.
Right now, 68 children ages 2½ to 12 years old attend the school, which has nine dedicated teachers and two other staff members. Tuition ranges from more than $2,500 per year for two days of preschool per week to more than $8,600 per year for elementary school students. If parents choose to help the nonprofit school with fundraising, those fees can be reduced.
“It’s individualized education,” Tomalty said. “Teachers follow the children for cues. It really is amazing to see children thrive with that kind of learning.”
Matt O’Malia of GO Logic, a Belfast-based architecture and design firm, also is a Cornerspring parent. His company will build the 6,100-square-foot high-efficiency school on the new parcel of land using a design that incorporates a super-insulated building shell and triple-glazed windows and doors. It will be the first passive house Montessori school in Maine, with a projected annual heating cost of $500. That is quite a savings compared to the roughly $8,600 it cost to heat the school last year, Kelley said.
The passive-house standard needs to have specific design elements and can mean a reduction in energy use for heating of up to 90 percent.
Also, it has cost $354,000 total to rent the current school space from owner athenahealth over the past seven years.
“The stars aligned,” Kelley said. “This is the time to build.”
School officials hope to take out a construction loan so they can be in the new space by the beginning of the next school year. The new, open-concept school building will feature lots of natural light, flexible classrooms and shared space for art, music, plays and parent meetings. The land the school has purchased also will make it possible for children to do more environmental, science and outdoor activities, they said.
“People are coming together to support the project,” O’Malia said. “It’s been one thing building on the next. We can do this, and I think it’s going to be great.”