Baxter Academy set to open new Portland building

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PORTLAND — With the new year, Baxter Academy for Technology and Science will welcome students to a new, custom-outfitted location on Lancaster Street.

The move means that for the first time in several years all classes and programming at the public charter school will be held in one, centralized place.

The 185 Lancaster St. building in Bayside includes 32,000 square feet “specially outfitted for STEM” learning, Kelli Pryor, the school’s executive director, said while leading a tour last week.

The space includes both a Great Room, where the entire school can gather, and a fabrication laboratory, which is literally at the heart of the new learning space.

The goal is to have all of the classrooms and other project spaces set up and ready to use by the time students return after the holiday break, Pryor said.

The school has been using the top floor of the space this fall, but once classes resume Jan. 3 , Pryor said the whole school will be under one roof again for the first time in a while.

“It’s been very challenging to have the campus split in this way,” she said. “The kids are very excited” about the new space.

Baxter Academy opened in September 2013 at 54 York St. and had an enrollment of 125 freshmen and sophomore students from 28 towns.

It was founded, according to the school website, “in response to a growing urgency among students and parents for greater access to high-quality STEM education.”

The goal was to “feature an innovative, project-based curriculum” along with “student-driven projects solving real-world problems.”

The school soon outgrew its space on York Street and opened a secondary location. It was after that when school leaders began looking for a new space that could house the entire program, which is capped at 400 students.

“We did an extensive search the past three years,” Pryor said. She said at the Lancaster Street location “all the elements came together. The space is big enough. It had everything we needed and we wanted to stay on the peninsula.”

Pryor said advantages on Lancaster Street include the ease of access for students, with a METRO bus stop and Interstate 295 nearby. She also said it was important for the school to stay closely connected with its community partners.

In addition to the “fab lab,” the new space also includes state-of-the-art physics, chemistry and other science spaces. “We can now do high-level chemistry right here in the building,” Pryor said.

The new school also has specialized project planning areas and a digital media classroom that will include a recording sound booth.

The school also features a carefully considered color palette, according to Pryor, who said the specific colors for each room were chosen based on their ability to “stimulate learning.” The colors include bright pink, yellow, orange, blue and green.

Pyror said the school received a long-term loan to pay for the upgrades to the new space and it has a 45-year lease.

The school is built around the fab lab, which features 3,000 square feet of space dedicated to programs like robotics, 3D printing and more, including a student-built, computer-controlled cutting machine.

In terms of the robotics program, teacher John Amory said his students will find out Jan. 6 what the challenge is for a new robotics competition season. Meanwhile, Baxter’s robot, nicknamed Tony, won its division at the world robotic championships held last April in St. Louis.

Pryor said what sets Baxter Academy apart, other than its science, technology, engineering and math-based curriculum, is that students can create their own pathways toward earning enough credits to graduate.

Students at the school also have the opportunity to take courses at area colleges and universities, and Baxter also has a new dual enrollment program it’s offering in conjunction with Thomas College that’s focused on computer science.

Baxter Academy will hold an open house for prospective students at 6 p.m. Jan. 10, but because of the school’s small size students must go through a lottery process to determine whether they can attend.

“We always have more applications than we have spots,” Pryor said, “which is terrible.”

That’s one reason the school has created auxiliary programs, which are offered to interested high school students over February vacation and throughout the summer.

And, with the addition of its new Great Room, Pryor said Baxter can expand its after-school mentoring and STEM programming for area students. The Great Room is also open to the community as an event space, she said.

To introduce students to their new school, Heather D’Ippolito, Baxter’s partnership and outreach coordinator, said they had extensive tours and engaged in a scavenger-hunt activity.

This story has been updated to correct the January start date.

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

Seniors Connor Bell, left, Simon Hertgenhan and Tristan Arcand help move Baxter Academy into its new space on Lancaster Street in Portland last week.

Baxter Academy is now at 185 Lancaster St. in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood.

The 3,000-square-foot fabrication laboratory at the center of Baxter Academy on Lancaster Street in Portland.