The Bangor building that for many years was the popular Great Skates roller rink will soon have another purpose.
After Great Skates closed three years ago, the building at 82 Sylvan Road has been under renovation for most of this year and will soon become the site of Stillwater Academy, a special-purpose school for kids who have autism or other challenges.
For the past 20 years, Stillwater Academy has occupied a rented building on Acme Road in Brewer. But a doubling of its student population over the past decade is among the reasons it will begin this coming school year in a new space at the former rink. It will begin using the new space on Sept. 3.
The school had just 12 students when Director Jody Raymond first started working there a decade ago, but it has 27 now.
The school, which is run by the Bangor agency Community Health and Counseling Services, has required a portable classroom to accommodate all its students at the Brewer site, Raymond said. That means students must go outside to access different sections of the school, which can be inconvenient when the weather is bad.
“We’re never all in the same place,” Raymond said. “We’ve made it work. It’s been a good location, but we needed something bigger, and we got this great opportunity where everyone is on the same floor.”
The new building will improve on the Brewer site in other ways, too. For example, it will have larger classrooms that will be conveniently connected to side rooms where students can go if they need one-on-one attention from educational technicians, according to Dale Hamilton, executive director of Community Health and Counseling Services.
Unlike the Brewer site, the new location will also be large enough to include a gym. In total, the Brewer site has about 8,500 square feet of usable space for students, while the new one will have about 12,000 square feet, according to Hamilton.
Students between the ages of 5 and 20 are referred to Stillwater Academy from public schools in the Bangor area and surrounding counties for a number of reasons. It receives funding from a mix of sources, including the Maine Department of Education and MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid.
About half of Stillwater Academy’s students are on the autism spectrum, Hamilton said. The rest struggle with other emotional, social, behavioral and developmental challenges.
The school’s population has grown as more Maine kids have been diagnosed with autism, Hamilton said. It has also more recently accepted students diagnosed with anxiety and other conditions that make it harder for them to learn in public schools.
Community Health and Counseling Services is paying the owner of the former Great Skates building, Hermon developer Tom Ellis, to renovate the space and lease it out.
Ellis said the project has been meaningful for him because he was the original owner of Great Skates and it was the first building he ever developed. Ellis also said he is trying to bring another tenant into the rest of the building.
“It has a special place in my heart, certainly,” he said. “It was just so nice to see over half of that building going to children, to help area communities.”
The building has 22,550 square feet, and Ellis is expanding it by almost 6,000 square feet as part of the renovation, according to records filed earlier this year at the Bangor code enforcement office.
Both parties declined to disclose the cost of construction and the lease Community Health and Counseling Services will pay. In a March 29 application for a building permit from the city, Ellis’ company, Ellis Entertainment Inc., estimated the renovation would cost $179,800, plus $1,476 for a building permit.
Hamilton said the organization has not needed to borrow any money to fund the renovations, but Community Health and Counseling Services will have to raise some funds to equip the new building.