Alternative school takes leap to Brunswick Landing

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BRUNSWICK — Just a week before the REAL School was scheduled to move to its new home on Brunswick Landing, a crew was putting the finishing touches on a custom building designed to suit their educational needs.

The Brunswick school district last year absorbed the program, which serves students with special behavioral and academical needs. But the school remained in Falmouth on Mackworth Island through the transition.

In the meantime, developer Tom Wright bought the former Naval armaments building at 17 Seahawk Ave. and designed it with the intention of leasing it to the School Department.

The School Board authorized a letter of intent last February to lease the space from Wright for $84,000 per year; by that time, Wright said he had started the process of renovation with architect Winton Scott. He declined to share the project costs.

Walking through the soon-to-be-finished site last week, Wright said his concept for the renovation was to design the building’s features to optimize the comfort of the student body.

“How can we make these rooms as comfortable as we can?” Wright said he constantly asked himself. “These kids don’t need any more distractions.”

The REAL School philosophy emphasizes experiential learning, and Wright added that the Brunswick Landing location will offer close proximity to outdoor learning spaces and nearby social service and community resources, many of which Wright developed.

He owns several mission-driven properties on the Landing, including the Bath Area YMCA, the nonprofit Seeds of Independence, the low-profit New Beet Market, and Flight Deck Brewing.

As an example of his form-meets-function design, he re-used metal grating from the old mezzanine to create panels with concave grooves in the classroom ceilings. The paint – soft pink and baby blue – softens the affixed LED strips into a more-soothing glow; teachers and staff can easily manipulate the color, intensity and amount of light, Wright said.

The final outcome is a modernized industrial building that combines bright colors, lots of windows – meaning natural light – to an industrial skeleton. It contains four classrooms and four counseling rooms, to house about 40 students.

Wright also added a second floor – using a 240-ton crane, he lifted the roof off, built the addition, and placed it back on – bringing the square footage from 4,100 to 7,100.

The building’s aesthetic is also meant to reflect its future students.

“Because this school is for kids who look at things differently, (I built it so) that they’d be able to see all the mechanical systems from the insides.”

When entering through the school’s glass door, pipes and air ventilation fixtures are visible through the length of the ceiling and hallways – all begging students to question their functions, Wright said.

Some of those pipes belong to features that Wright said will bring the former Navy building to the forefront of environmentally friendly design.

He’s installed a heating system that uses water instead of a refrigerant, which he said will save energy and avoid the use of chemicals; Wright said he isn’t aware of any other buildings that regulate temperature using the same kind of system.

Technological novelties aside, students are more likely to notice the result: their Mackworth Island location lacked air-conditioning, Wright noted, making at times for an uncomfortable environment for students already challenged by the traditional classroom space.

Wright also re-purposed fixtures and materials from old buildings in the area – some of which have been incorporated with humor.

In one of the bathrooms, a mirror salvaged from the old Navy firehouse reads, “Meet the person responsible for your safety.”

In another bathroom, Wright installed stainless steel panels behind the urinals he took from an old car wash.

“I figured those were un-ruinable,” he said with a laugh.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

The former U.S. Navy armaments building on Brunswick Landing has been renovated by developer Tom Wright to become the home of the REAL School, an alternative education program operated by the Brunswick School Department.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or