Baxter Academy in Portland moving toward long-term vision

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PORTLAND — School leaders say a move to a two-story building on Lancaster Street this September will help Baxter Academy for Technology and Science take a major step toward realizing its vision.

The charter school’s new location is seen “as a great new home where students and teachers will have (the necessary) space to explore and to create,” Kelli Pryor, Baxter’s executive director, said.

The planned move will also allow the school to once again offer its programming under one roof.

The school, which opened at 54 York St. in 2013, quickly outgrew the space and for the past two years has also been operating out of a satellite location on Congress Street.

The ultimate goal, according to Pryor, is to enroll 400 students in grades nine through 12; there are about 320 students now attending the school from more than 60 towns throughout southern Maine.

The new location, at 185 Lancaster St. in Bayside, will have 32,000 square feet under a long-term lease that, with a series of renewals, could last up to 35 years, Pryor said.

Baxter Academy will take up approximately half the building, which formerly housed the Portland Career Center. There will be other tenants in other parts of the building, Pryor said, but the school will be self-contained.

She said the interior will be renovated to include fabrication and science labs, along with specialized robotics and physics classrooms. In addition, the new space will also house regular classrooms and offices. And, it will have a “great room” for assemblies and exhibitions.

Pryor said the top floor should be ready just prior to school opening in the fall, and the remainder of the space would be ready sometime later. The project requires Planning Board approval because a school represents a change of use under the city’s ordinances, according to Pryor.

Along with providing much-needed space, she said the new location on Lancaster Street will also allow Baxter Academy to stay on the peninsula, which Pryor said is a priority.

Being near Interstate 295 and the Metro bus service’s transportation hub at Elm Street “are critical to meeting the school’s complex transportation needs,” the school said in a statement announcing the move.

“Staying in downtown Portland is also vital to the school’s mission to connect its students to real-world learning opportunities through partnerships, internships and early college courses at the Maine College of Art and the University of Southern Maine,” the statement said.

Michele LaForge, Baxter’s head of school, said “We’re (also) excited that the new neighborhood is close to the public library and to community gardens, to biking and walking trails and to the beautiful green spaces at Deering Oaks and Back Bay.”

And, Steve Hirshon, head of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, noted that there “has been a lot of enthusiasm across the board” for having a school here. “We’re looking forward to turning Bayside into a learning laboratory.”

Moving to Lancaster Street will also allow Baxter Academy to offer more after-school and summer programming and broaden access to the school’s specialized curriculum.

Allison Crean Davis, chairwoman of the Baxter Academy board, said, “We’ve known from the (school’s) inception that eventually we’d need to find a new home to accommodate the demand for our (science, technology, engineering and math) programming.”

She said school leaders have “researched and explored many options” since Baxter first opened nearly four years ago. The Lancaster Street location “retains Baxter’s presence in the heart of Portland, in close proximity to many of our academic and industry partners.”

Crean Davis said Baxter Academy “is thriving,” and the demand for educational opportunities exceeds what the school can meet.

“We’re proud of the great efforts we’ve collectively made to not only get this school off the ground, but to also develop a reputation for excellence,” Davis said. 

She added, “At the heart of our success is our innovative spirit, demonstrated daily by our students and faculty and guided with care by our administrators. This new facility will allow us to build upon our success and will provide a superb foundation for ongoing growth.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

A rendering of what the exterior of the new Baxter Academy for Technology and Science would look like. The school plans to move to 185 Lancaster St. by the time classes start this fall.

Baxter Academy students reading and discussing the works of poet Maya Angelou.