SANFORD, Maine — Everyone needed to squint or shield their eyes as they made their way along Alumni Boulevard toward Sanford High School and Regional Technical Center on Wednesday morning — the rising sun shined ever so brightly directly ahead.
You could say everyone was heading toward a bright new dawn — literally and, oh, yes, quite figuratively.
Wednesday marked a new, fresh era in local education — the first official day of class at the brand-new Sanford High School, a state-of-the-art institution organized into four lucrative career pathways and featuring such attractions as a new football stadium, a competition gymnasium, a performing arts center with nearly 900 seats, and more, so much more.
“It’s really cool,” said Hannah Ball, a sophomore, moments after stepping into the new school for the very first time. “It doesn’t look like the other high school. It looks like a college.”
The former Sanford High School, which opened in 1970, officially closed last Tuesday, Oct. 2. In the next couple of years, it will be renovated and reopened as a middle school for grades 5 through 8. The new high school is located in South Sanford, off Route 109, behind the stretch of Main Street that starts with O’Reilly’s Auto Parts and continues south to the Center for Shopping.
Brett Williams, the director of the Sanford Performing Arts Center, the school’s auditorium, handed out maps to help students find their way to their classes. Williams described the new facility and the occasion as “incredible,” adding that the school’s team of teachers and administrators worked hard during the past week to get their classrooms and offices and everything else ready for the big day.
“We’re running on adrenaline,” Williams said. “It has been a spectacular week. The kids are here. This is what it’s all about.”
Shane O’Connell, who teaches social studies at Sanford High, also greeted students and handed out maps at the entrance.
“I’m blown away,” said O’Connell, the grand marshal of Sanford High’s homecoming game just a couple of weeks ago. “This place is awesome. It’s unreal. I’m glad for the kids. I’m glad for the community.”
O’Connell turned around and pointed to his classroom, located on the second floor in the front of the building. The windows offer a view of the American flag waving in front of the school and of the foliage in the distance.
“That’s where I get to work,” said O’Connell, his gratitude and delight clear in his voice. “I can almost see the stadium.”
James Harmon, who teaches video production at the school, has a new classroom that includes a studio, a control room, and an editing station. He approached the school on Wednesday morning toting a camera, shooting footage for a first-day-of-school video as he walked through the front entrance, worked his way through the crowds, and headed down the hallway to his classroom. Harmon showed similar emotions as fellow teachers Williams and O’Connell.
“I’m amazed and happy,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools David Theoharides craned his neck and spotted a large drone buzzing overhead — likely one belonging to a media outlet, as it was a different color and size than the one used by Sanford High to capture footage of the school’s construction during the past few years.
“Exciting day,” Theoharides said. “After 10 years of working on this, it’s just as exciting as can be, seeing it built. The big thing is seeing the kids’ faces as they walk in. The staff here has just been amazing. We’ve worked so hard to get this place ready.”
In the school’s spacious lobby, teachers, administrators, and a team of Peer Helpers handed out maps and other helpful information to assist students as they navigated the hallways and checked out the new cafeteria, library, Agora staircase, and other destinations.
“I think it’s really great that we’re able to move in now and not next year, especially for seniors who have been wanting to come here to this school,” said junior Julia Ravesi, one of the Peer Helpers. “I think it’s nice.”
Caleb Noble, also a junior, is a student in the new school’s business and marketing wing.
“It’s a good-looking school,” Noble said. “They did a really good job on it. It seems like a great building.”
Siblings Sarah and Kyle Nickerson both walked into the school for their first time, representing both ends of the student spectrum — she’s a senior in what will be the school’s first graduating class, and he’s a freshman starting class at a different school for the second time in five weeks.
“I’m very excited but a little nervous that I might get lost,” Sarah said. “I’m looking forward to touring everything and getting used to the school. It’s pretty amazing.”
Kyle was confident he’d find his way around the new place in good time.
“I learned the old high school very well in two days,” he said.
When asked what impressed him most about the new school so far, he looked to the front doors, through which students continued to pass as they arrived for class.
“This entrance is stunning,” he said.
Social studies teacher Paul Auger took the long view of the occasion, placing Wednesday, Oct. 10, in its place in local history.
“It’s one of the most exciting days in the education history of Sanford,” said Auger, a member of the city’s historical society. “We’ve only had a few first days of high school ever. It’s a momentous day.”
Sanford School Committee Chairman John Roux stood in the lobby and enjoyed the excitement and energy around him. He referred to the years the school department and other advocates fought hard to make the new high school a reality — a struggle that included winning the state department of education’s designation of scores of millions of dollars in construction funds; building community support for the project, a process that included straw polls and one big voting day in January of 2013; and, of course, the long and complicated construction of the school and campus themselves, among other challenges.
“It’s an exciting day for Sanford,” Roux said.
Someone suggested to Roux that the opening of the new high school and technical center is proof that Sanford’s time — its moment to begin anew, to shine, to lead — is coming.
“It’s here,” Roux smiled and said. “It’s here. Our time is here, today.”
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