BELFAST, Maine — For 24 years, Pam Lynam taught math in a classroom at Belfast Area High School that, to put it mildly, had some problems.
Those included air quality issues, mold on the floors and walls and so little insulation that the room was cold in the winter. Classroom walls were so thin that her students could hear the lesson being taught in the room next door. Although the school district worked to remediate the problems, the old math wing had been badly built to start with and it was hard to make it better.
At one point, there was even an infestation of rats.
But those days are done.
Thanks to a $7.6 million, two-year construction and renovation project at the high school, Lynam’s got a brand-new classroom that’s full of light — and rodent-free.
“This has been quite a blessing for us,” the teacher said Monday after school officials debuted renovations at a ribbon-cutting ceremony that also showcased the school’s new addition.
The high school serves almost 500 students from Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville, where residents voted in 2016 to pass a bond in order to pay for the project. Altogether, the renovation impacted 18,000 square feet of the building, including an almost 10,000 square foot addition.
Students will see a lot of changes to their 53-year-old school starting the moment they arrive. Freshmen begin next Tuesday and the rest of the students will follow on Wednesday, Sept. 4.
The crumbling concrete and steel entryway canopy has been replaced with a graceful white-and-blue version.
Inside, the cramped cafeteria has been revamped and brightened. The kitchen was overhauled and the 1960s-era locker rooms with their rusting, dented lockers have been completely renovated.
The poorly-constructed math wing was torn down and replaced, too, and improvements were made to the stage and special education wing.
The district’s central office and Belfast Adult Education also relocated to the school from a small, freestanding building on Waldo Avenue they shared.
Sara Bryant, a special education teacher, said that her classroom is a big improvement on the concrete-and-cinderblock space she formerly occupied.
“I felt like we were almost in a jail cell,” she said.
Now, her room features fresh paint, lots of light and a quiet, cozy nook where students who need a break can relax with a puzzle or coloring book.
“It’s really wonderful,” Rachael Greeley, the special services coordinator, said of the renovation project.
Administrators said that students and teachers at the high school were patient as they contended with the two years of logistics challenges that came with the renovation project.
“It can be noisy and dusty, and on the way to being beautiful, it can make everything feel dismal,” RSU 71 Superintendent Mary Alice McLean said during her remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. She noted that the math department and some other teachers were patient while they were displaced during the project.
Sonya Verney, who teaches home economics and biology, was one of those who lost her classroom during construction. Last fall, she taught classes on the picnic tables outside until it got too cold, and then bounced between available classrooms.
Biology and home economic students were unable to do lab work during the project.
“My kids and I, we called it homeless,” Verney said.
But it was worth the wait, she added. The kitchen and lab has been updated with exhaust hoods and proper electrical outlets. Even though her space is a bit smaller, she said it’s better.
“It’s lovely. It’s modern. It’s up-to-date,” Verney said. “It’s a great environment now.”
Students are looking forward to the renovation being completed and to using the new spaces, too.
“I think it’s awesome,” Bryan Spaulding a 17-year-old senior from Belfast, said. “It really brings new life to the school. More light and, I think, it’s more welcoming for students.”