FARMINGTON — The Mt. Blue High School Learning Campus is in the final stages of a three-year, $60 million renovation and expansion project.

The renovations are two-thirds done and are projected to be completed by this fall, Superintendent Michael Cormier said.

For now, the high school students and staff are stuffed into the completed two-thirds of the building.

The guidance offices are in the library. The nurse’s station is set up in what will one day be a teacher’s lounge, with emergency supplies stored on what are intended to be teachers’ cubicles. The career center’s firefighter training laboratory is now a make-shift music room filled wall to wall with band instruments and a semicircle of chairs. The automotive classes are being taught off campus in rented space near the Franklin County Fairgrounds.

The renovations are designed to turn the high school into a learning campus for about 900 students. It will include the Foster Regional Applied Technology Center, the Franklin County Community College Network and Franklin County Adult Education.

When the community college moves its offices to the campus, it will offer postsecondary options to the students.

The project is expanding the 40-year-old high school’s space from 186,400 square feet to 226,000 square feet.

English teacher Dan Ryder said his classroom moved this year to one of the mobile classrooms outside the building that teachers and students have dubbed “condo city.”

He is tired of the displacement and construction, but said he tries to remember the disruption is part of building a newer, better facility.

“What we’re going to have in the end is so going to be worth it,” he said.

Ryder said he feels sorry for students who will graduate before the renovations are complete.

“I think it’s really hard for kids who aren’t going to reap all the benefits of the building to endure through the construction,” he said.

Monique Poulin, high school principal, said at the beginning of the renovation process that the administration tried to organize a comprehensive plan for when teachers would need to move elsewhere to clear room for construction. Such a plan, however, was soon out of reach.

“Eventually we just said at the beginning of each year that everyone has to be ready to be flexible, and everyone has been really great about it,” she said.

Cormier estimated 30 to 40 percent of the building is being used the way it was designed to be used and that he is proud of the completed portion.

He said renovations, approved in 2009 by 76 percent of district voters, are part of a forward-thinking plan to heat the campus with alternatives to oil. School officials plan to make use of geothermal systems, solar photovoltaic panels, a wood-chip boiler, solar hot water heaters and a small-scale wind energy generator.

The wind energy system does not produce a high percentage of the school’s energy, but it serves as a teaching tool for a new class on alternative energy, according to Glenn Kapiloff, director of the Foster Technology Center.

He said by investing in those heating options, the school district will not be subject to oil price spikes. The options also support Maine-made products, including wood chips.

Senior Jaycee Jenckes said she thinks the school needed the renovations.

“It felt like only some of the old building was getting heat,” she said.

Cormier said one challenge of a long-term building project is planning for ever-advancing technology.

The classrooms are equipped with new technology, including SMART boards and SMART projectors.

Unlike a traditional chalk or blackboard, they are digital tools that function like a computer and can save work. The building has wireless laptop access and the students have access to laptops.

In the completed portion, Cormier said, the new food court is a good example of the school’s versatility.

The cafeteria, in the center of the school, was redesigned with floor-to-ceiling windows, lime-green chairs, and table and booth seating.

The space is used not just for lunch, but as an all-day focal point of the school, Cormier said.

Ryder said he likes to take his class to the food court for group work.

The area has glass room dividers that can be used to partition off space, but he said with the size and design of the room, he can easily spread his class out, and the groups are not disrupted by outside noise.

Kapiloff said he remembers thinking the bright green chairs in the cafeteria were an unusual choice in color, “but the students just love them.”

Senior Sully Jackson said while he will graduate before the renovations are complete, his three younger siblings will be able to enjoy the new building.

He said he has found the construction to be disruptive, but he also thinks it was time for the school to be upgraded.

“For now it’s a mess, but we know it had to happen,” he said. 

Kaitlin Schroeder— 861-9252
kschroeder@mainetoday.com