SOUTH PORTLAND — On Monday morning, the nearly 900 students who attend South Portland High School were greeted with the completed version of the new 300,000-square-foot building, and more than just new and updated spaces.
Construction of the $47.3 million project took place over a two-year period and was divided into two phases, so students and staff would not have to relocate during the process. During construction, students were sequestered and did not have access to the entire school.
Much of the first floor was rebuilt and completed in the first phase, including the cafeteria, gym, auditorium, main office and entrance, and lobby.
The second phase consisted mostly of renovation of the remaining original building, including the three floors of the original V-shaped eastern portion.
Throughout the school, classrooms and hallways were gutted and expanded, and for every cluster of about eight classrooms, a separate teacher work room was added.
During the second phase of construction, teacher work rooms served as classrooms.
“We’ve had a lot of these nice spaces for a year, but only now can we utilize them,” Principal Ryan Caron said.
Accompanying the refined building, in many respects, is a refined way of learning.
New science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, classes have been added, and regular classrooms have been outfitted to allow teachers to easily integrate STEM curriculum.
A new STEM lab was also built, outfitted to accommodate a variety of group activities.
“We will be offering a forensic science class that will utilize the STEM lab in the spring. This is in addition to the career prep (formally home economics) classes that will utilize the lab and focus on STEM learning targets,” Caron said.
In the vein of providing more space for students, the renovated building also boasts a more comfortable, multi-faceted learning environment.
The library, now referred to as the learning commons, offers students more diverse workspace. Students can use comfortable chairs, sit at tall shared tables, or reserve one of several side rooms to work quietly or on group projects.
Eventually, Caron said, the school hopes to offer an additional snack vendor in the commons, similar to a college library.
A new tiered lecture hall, another product of renovation that not many high schools offer, is a luxury to the students and the community, alike, Caron said. Completed last year in the first phase of construction, School Board and special meetings are held in the new space.
New safety and infrastructure features were also added. From the front office, for example, doors in the school – exterior and partition – can be locked simultaneously from the main office, Caron said.
Infrastructural improvements include the installation of a radiant heating system, which heats the building by heating the floors, rather than blowing warm air.
When a community builds a new school, Caron said, “it shows that they value change.” That change, Caron believes, is attractive to outsiders, so the completed school is built to accommodate 1,100 students.
Aspects of the current student population have been increasing, as well. Overall enrollment, including daily attendance among the current students is up, Caron said.
“We all have pride in this building. … The building enhances what South Portland has been trying to do for awhile with its students,” Caron said before stopping two senior girls on the second floor of the recently finished wing to ask them what they thought about the renovation.
“It’s so big, I’m lost,” one said, seriously.
“I’m just glad it was finished before we graduated,” said the other.
In the cafeteria as the third lunch shift was ending, sophomores Sadiki Stewart, 16, and Ruay Bol, 16, said that it was difficult to pick just one aspect of the new facility that they liked best.
“The whole school is nice,” Stewart said.
When prodded, Stewart said, “I like the comfy seats in the learning commons.”
While comfortable seats may seem unimportant, being rewarded with a new, comfortable building ensures that “everyone feels appreciated,” Caron said.
The renovated South Portland High School library, now called a learning commons, offers students more space to work and is reminiscent of a library on a college campus.
Many aspects of the original South Portland High School were reconfigured in the renovation, including the entrance and lobby. The lobby, now adjacent to the main office and learning commons, is just down the hall from the new lecture hall and cafeteria.