Portland prepares to open $30M elementary school ‘dream come true’

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PORTLAND — Every element in the new Amanda C. Rowe Elementary School is an opportunity for a new beginning.

From a new name to a new logo and larger common spaces to light-filled classrooms outfitted with the latest technology, the almost $30 million school “is a dream come true,” Principal Dawn Kenniston said this week.

Work is wrapping up at the school, where the doors will open to students for the first time Sept. 4. The new building replaces the former Hall Elementary School, but sits on the same 21-acre Orono Road site.

The new school is something “this community has waited for and talked about for such a long time; we’re just so proud and excited” to show it off, Kenniston said. “We’re just busting at the seams, we’re so excited.”

While she’s aware that people are curious about the new building, Kenniston said the general public is being asked to wait until a grand opening is held in mid-September to visit and celebrate the city’s newest school.

However, Rowe students and their families are invited to attend an open house from 5-6 p.m. Aug. 30, which will conclude with a Popsicle-themed dance party either on the new playground or at the Sagamore Village community center.

There’s still a lot of construction equipment on the grounds and some interior work that needs to be finished, but Kenniston said this week most of the classroom wings are done and being cleaned in anticipation of teachers being able to move in.

In all, she said, the new Rowe School is 30,000 square feet larger than the former Hall School and it includes a middle-school sized cafeteria and gym, which will be available for use by the community.

In fact, Kenniston said, the new school is much more than an educational space: it’s also a community center where people in the Nason’s Corner area can come together for activities and other special events.

The common spaces will be jointly operated by the School Department and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, she said, and Kenniston expects the building to be in use seven days a week.

The state paid for almost all of the construction costs except for the larger common spaces. The money for that was approved in a citywide bond in spring 2016.

Construction of the school started in spring 2017, and Kenniston said “we couldn’t have asked for a better partner” than general contractor Arthur C. Dudley of Standish.

She called the more than 60-year-old Hall School “a tired building” and said the “teaching resources available in our new school are phenomenal. We are all very grateful for this opportunity.”

“We had so many unmet needs,” Kenniston said of the former school, “now we’ll be able to blossom, especially with our new integrated units of study.”

The former Hall School was built in 1956 and had received very little in the way of capital improvements over the years. It was in such poor condition that it eventually made it to the top of the state’s list of schools needing replacement.

It was named for Fred P. Hall, a former president of the Portland Teachers Association and head of the history department at Deering High School.

This spring the School Board renamed the school in honor of Rowe, a former long-time nurse at Hall School who died in 2013 from breast cancer.

Demolition of the Hall School took place over the past month. The school was still in use through mid-June as classes were held in the old school while the new one went up next door.

In addition to new technology, like interactive whiteboards, all classrooms will be equipped with easily moveable furniture that can better accommodate project-based learning, as well as multi-age teaching.

The new furniture also provides students with different types of seating options, Kenniston said. And students will also have their own lockers. The new media center, or school library, is also much larger and it’s equipped with a variety of interactive technology as well.

Other upgrades at the new Rowe School include state-of-the-art security systems. Each classroom door is outfitted with a keypad to easily enable schoolwide lockdowns or to lock or unlock specific doors, Kenniston said.

Cameras and other screening systems for visitors will also be in place once school starts. This means, however, that parents will no longer be able to walk their child to the classroom. Instead, all families will be asked to drop their students off on the playground or by the front doors.

To better create a sense of community and common purpose inside the building, Kenniston said fifth-graders will be asked to adopt a kindergartener to eat lunch with every day and to act as a reading buddy.

Though gone, the former Hall School won’t be forgotten, she added.

While tearing down the old school, contractors found a large, heart-shaped rock that will have pride of place in the new school and act as a memorial to all of the teaching and learning that occurred at Hall over the years.

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

The new Amanda C. Rowe Elementary School in Portland is set to open Sept. 4. The nearly $30 million school takes the place of the former Hall Elementary and sits on the same 21-acre site.

Artist Janet Redfield created this glass fish installation that hangs in the entryway of the new Rowe Elementary School in Portland.

Classrooms and other educational spaces in Portland’s new Rowe Elementary School are light-filled and will be equipped with easily movable furniture, along with interactive technology.

The new logo for the school was created by graphic artist Todd Henry and “represents who we are moving into the future,” Principal Dawn Kenniston said.

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