Portland teachers, students begin transition to new elementary school

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PORTLAND — Walking up to the main entrance of the new Ocean Avenue Elementary School, it’s apparent that one is about to enter a school like no other. 

A finely cut awning with a bright yellow underbelly is propped up by bright red pylons. A bank of windows of various sizes, heights and hews of yellow and blue speckle the new brick wall, whose granite foundation carries the inscription “2011.”

Beginning Feb. 28, the more than 300 students who now use the more than century-old Nathan Clifford Elementary School on Falmouth Street will attend the new $14.2 million school built with state funding. More students are expected next year.

The School Department will hold a farewell open house at Clifford on Sunday, Feb. 13, from 1-3 p.m. An open house at the new school will be held on Thursday, Feb. 16, from 6-8 p.m.

The new  school equipped with amenities that students and staff have only imagined at the historic Clifford School.

Each classroom has three desktop Apple computers, a Smart Board and an overhead projector, which allows teachers and students to access and manipulate a variety of digital information.

Teachers will also have microphones to wear, which will amplify and clarify their voices through speakers at the back of the classrooms.

“I’m really excited,” second-grade teacher Erin Partridge said as she was setting up her classroom on Monday. “It has a TLC makeover feel to it.”

From the outside, the new 440-student, two-story school looks like a behemoth. But inside, the layout is cozy and navigable.

The cafeteria/performance space, which has a projector screen, lights and sound equipment, is off the main entrance. A little further down the hall is the school gym with four basketball hoops, one of which is height adjustable.

The rest of the more than 70,000-square-foot school is broken down into four distinct sections. Each represents a natural theme in the school: ocean, agriculture, mountains and forests.

Those themes are played out by the color and shapes of the tiles on the floors, ornamental inlays in the walls and colors of the chairs and carpets.

Each wing contains a locker area, which doubles as a group learning area with large tables.

Some of the classrooms have adjoining “flex spaces” for group and specialized learning, and adjoining doors that can open widely to create large classrooms.

Facilities Manager Douglas Sherwood said that about 85 percent of the building materials were recycled. The building has state-of-the-art heating and ventilation systems that can be monitored and controlled from a remote location, he said.

The school contains 20 solar panels for hot water and about 12,000 square feet of “green” organic roof, made of plant material, for storm-water runoff.

Sherwood said the district hopes the building qualifies for silver certification through the U.S. Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

Other environmental features of the 12-acre property are five bio-retention ponds to treat runoff and minimal paved surfaces.

There is a U-10 soccer field behind the building, fenced in because an active rail line that will be used for expansion of Amtrak Downeaster service to Brunswick passes behind the school.

The new school also has advanced special education rooms, complete with a kitchenette and a washer and dryer for teaching life skills, ceiling braces for occupational therapy, and “calming rooms” for student restraints that allow teachers to observe students.

The school also contains a dedicated health clinic, giving students some much-needed privacy.

“The clinic right now is in the hallway at Clifford,” Principal Beverly Coursey said.

Opening a new school is nothing new for Coursey, who previously had the honor in Sabattus.

But Coursey said she is in no hurry to look for an opportunity to open a third.

“I’m going to enjoy this,” she said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

Sidebar Elements


Principal Beverly Coursey pauses for a moment Monday during a tour of the new Ocean Avenue Elementary School, where classrooms are equipped with the latest computer, audio, video and Smart Board technology.

Students from Nathan Clifford Elementary School in Portland will start attending the new Ocean Avenue Elementary School after February vacation.

Second-grade teacher Erin Partridge sets up her new new classroom at the Ocean Avenue Elementary School.

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