MONMOUTH — The last beam on Monmouth’s new school has been placed.

For local father Jim Grandahl, who is chairperson of the Regional School Unit 2 School Building Committee and a member of the school board, getting the facility built has been his life’s work. 

“I started (the) project before (Monmouth schools) merged with the RSU in 2007,” he said. “My oldest went into kindergarten in 2004 and graduates college next year.” 

Monmouth Memorial School, the new pre-K to 8th grade school, being built July 17 in Monmouth. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Though none of his children will be able to go to this school, he will see his efforts come to fruition in September 2020 when the school will open to students and classes.

In 2017, RSU 2 approved a new consolidated middle and elementary school for students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth. It will replace the Monmouth Middle and Henry L. Cottrell Elementary schools. 

The new school will be on Academy Road beside the high school, Monmouth Academy.

“This is a campus now,” said Gordon Murray, RSU 2 Director of Buildings and Grounds.

The middle school, built in 1856, earned the ninth spot on the Maine Department of Education priority list in 2014 for its capital school construction program; the elementary school ranked 56th. 

“This will allow us to innovate in ways that are more difficult to do when you are in a building that does not always support the way you think and the way you want kids to learn,” said Monmouth Middle School Principal Melissa Burnham Barter, who will be the principal at the new school.

Originally, the new school was slated to open January 2020 after the semester break, but that date was pushed back to the start of a new school year. 

Grit Richards, project superintendent for PC Construction, opens a classroom window during a July 17 tour of Monmouth Memorial School. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Construction is still expected to be completed by December, said Construction Superintendent Grit Richards of PC Construction. 

The new date was set during a joint meeting of the reuse committee and the Monmouth Building Committee earlier this month, following a topping off ceremony for the school.

“You are just starting off the year with this positivity that exudes from the staff and the students,” said RSU 2 Superintendent Cheri Towle.

The extra semester will also give school officials a chance to iron out the kinks — like how long to plan between classes, something that could disrupt a school schedule mid-year. 

“School routines and procedures will be different for us since we are bringing two schools into one school,” Barter said. “We will have to figure out little things, like how long it takes to get students from a kindergarten classroom down to the cafeteria.”

Murray explained that the extra time will also give the district a chance to get to know the building and make minor alterations.

“When we have students in the building,” he said, “we do not want contractors making adjustments.”

The school will be named Monmouth Memorial School, which was the name of the elementary school that existed before Cottrell Elementary.

“It symbolizes everybody who has ever contributed to the Monmouth school system,” Grandahl said. “It is not in the name of one person; it is in the name of everybody.”

During Town Meeting, Monmouth residence approved taking back the elementary and middle school buildings, authorizing the Select Board to determine use for each of the buildings, whether that is to re-purpose, sell or demolish. The facilities will be turned over to the town July 1, 2020.

Monmouth Memorial School, the new pre-K to 8th grade school, being built July 17 in Monmouth. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The school building committee had safety in mind when they designed the campus. For example, it is constructed with flame retardant materials and all windows use hurricane- and bulletproof glass, which also holds in heat. 

Also, anyone entering or exiting the school will have access to only one entrance. 

At the main entrance will be a foyer where those in the main office will be able to see, through windows, who is requesting entrance to the school. Once they determine that person can enter, they can unlock the doors remotely. 

Only approved faculty members with key cards will be able to access other doors, such as re-entering the building after recess.

The main corridor will branch off into three wings. The first and second wing will have classrooms. The first will include two floors with pre-kindergarten to second grade classrooms on the ground floor and third through fifth grades on the second floor. Grades six through eight will be in the second wing.  

The third wing will include a cafeteria and a gymnasium — not a “cafegymatorium.” 

Leading to that wing will be a library, classrooms for special education and life skills, and a Makerspace for science, technology, engineering and mathematics programming. 

Learning about the STEM classroom, Towle grinned and clapped her hands. Having only been the superintendent for less than a month, Towle was still getting to know her communities, and she has been an advocate for STEM learning. 

“The beliefs of our education system, this building is going to support,” Towle said.

The 70,000-square-foot facility will be smart with its energy and easier to maintain. 

The district hopes to save 75% in maintenance costs and 40% to 50% in fuel costs once the new school is complete, former RSU 2 Superintendent Bill Zima told the Kennebec Journal last year after the Maine State Board of Education approved spending for the new school.

Heating for the building will be primarily radiant heat with high-efficiency boilers fueled by propane. It will be inside the building in mechanical rooms in each wing.

“It is very efficient,” Richards said. “Once it is heated up and the materials are heated up, it does not take much energy to keep it warm.” 

The classrooms will also utilize natural lights. The exterior wall of each class in the building will have a higher ceiling, allowing more light to penetrate the classroom. Those windows will also open just enough to allow in fresh air. 

Each classroom wing will have at least one unwalled lounge area where students can socialize or work in groups on projects. No space in the facility will be designated for seclusion.

The total cost of the project is $26.7 million, and it has been completely subsidized by the state

“This is really going to be a boom for the town,” Town Manager Curtis Lunt said. 

Lunt, who will retire in October, believes growth in the population of the town has been and will be spurred by the new school. 

“We are building a school that is going to last the community a long time,” Barter said. “I’m so glad I will get to lead it and be a part of it.”


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