New CBHS Great Room is the 'heart of our school'

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PORTLAND — The Great Room at Casco Bay High School is the school’s community gathering spot, but for the past several years it’s been inadequate for hosting all-school functions.

Now the room is seeing a complete makeover, with the space being significantly enlarged and upgraded with new technology and a small stage, among other improvements.

The new Great Room, which is “the heart of our school,” said Principal Derek Pierce, will be open and ready to welcome students on the first day of school, Sept. 4. “It’s our village green and we use it in a 100 different ways.”

A new exterior stairwell tower and main entrance is also in the works, but likely won’t be ready for use until late November, according to Doug Sherwood, the facilities coordinator for the Portland Public Schools.

In total, capital improvements at Casco Bay High, which shares space with Portland Arts & Technology High School, will cost about $1.2 million, Sherwood said. Interior renovations at CBHS, which also includes three new classrooms and new offices, should be completed by the end of this week.

Pierce said renovating and enlarging the Great Room has been under consideration for at least five years and the funding was finally approved in the 2018 city budget.

In its 14th year of operation, Casco Bay High has grown from an enrollment of 70 to 400 and the Great Room was no longer meeting the needs of students or faculty, Pierce said. “So, we’re looking to make it larger and more open.”

To increase the size of the Great Room, three adjacent classrooms were gutted and new classrooms were created elsewhere, including in a former dark room that had outlived its useful life.

There will also be a new main office that will act as the main entryway for Casco Bay High once the new stairwell is completed. For now, both CBHS and PATHS students will use the back entrance near the greenhouse.

The new Great Room is “more modern, with better lighting and it’s actually of this century,” Pierce said. “It’s also very flexible and the whole project has really elevated the purpose and value of the space.”

“I’ve been giving people sneak peaks all summer and both students and teachers are pretty giddy, especially about the new aesthetics and functionality. We’re all very excited,” he added.

The new stairwell entrance will also boast a new, entwined logo that incorporates both the values and goals of Casco Bay High and PATHS. The tagline reads, “My education, my choice.”

Casco Bay High is an experiential school with a project-based learning model, including a new intensive on sea-level rise and how it will impact infrastructure and neighborhoods throughout the city.

Pierce said the School Department has applied for state aid to either renovate or build a new space for Casco Bay High and PATHS, but that process could take another 10 years, which is why “we needed this project to happen,” he said of the Great Room and other improvements.

“This will enable us to function while we wait for state funding,” he said.

The Portland Schools resume classes on Sept. 4 for grades 1 -12 and Sept. 6 for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. A district-wide Back to School Fair will be held 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25 at Ocean Avenue Elementary.

In addition, many schools, particularly at the elementary level, are also holding a variety of welcome back events prior to school starting.

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

A new, enlarged, more functional and more modern Great Room will greet Casco Bay High School students when they return to class Sept. 4.

This sketch shows what the new exterior stairwell at Casco Bay High will look like once it’s completed later this fall.

The new entwined logo for Casco Bay High and Portland Arts & Technology High School touts the underlying philosophy of both schools – “My education, my choice.”