AUGUSTA — According to the audience attending Tuesday night’s Zoom workshop, a school for the future is technology-based, has movable walls and furniture, and incorporates outdoor education.

Those were the takeaways from the first of a series of presentations hosted by the Augusta Public Schools, as the district looks toward planning for its future schools and the possible renovation of Hussey Elementary School. Tuesday night’s presentation focused on “Trends in School Design” and was put on by CHA Architecture.

Amanda Olson, Augusta school board chairperson, said at the beginning of the presentation there is no word on when the possible reconstruction or renovation of Hussey could take place, but that the district believes they are close to receiving state funding from the Maine Department of Education.


An interactive presentation hosted Tuesday by Augusta Public Schools surveyed the audience about their preferences for how future school buildings should function. Zoom screenshot

Olson said the elementary school has tried for nearly 10 years to receive state funding for a new school. In 2010, the school ranked 17th in comparison to other schools in the state competing for funding.

In 2017, they were in 9th place, coming up on the list because the DOE chooses five schools a year — Olson said this year is different, though, because Oxford-based Maine School Administrative District 17 has two schools next to each other on the list, in 5th and 6th place, and would receive the funding as a district.


“We think it could happen relatively soon, but it’s based on funding capacity,” Olson said. “We anticipate it would be very near in the future, that’s why we are planning this now to make sure we are proactive and ready when the call happens.”

The Augusta Public Schools tasked CHA Architecture to review possible ideas for either a renovation or reconstruction of Hussey. Augusta Superintendent James Anastasio said the district has not decided which route to take but decided to start the visioning process of different possibilities if the school systems chance arises this year for a new building.

“We might build another Hussey, or we might do something else,” he said.

The interactive presentation used surveys to answer questions from host Kathy Cogan. It reviewed how schools in Maine are being built, focusing on the future aspect, and preparing the students through a skills-based approach through different construction and building designs.

Cogan said classrooms are being built with an open approach — desks and chairs are easy to move, whiteboards and technology can be moved around, and collaborative thinking and group work are heavily encouraged. The previous approach to learning, “the stage approach” where desks are aligned in rows and teachers are at the front of the room, is discouraged in the design of new schools.

“It’s shifting and giving kids agency over their education, within reason,” Cogan said. “It could look like letting them choose what type of chair they want to sit in, but that can grow into other things, like how they want to work, or learning about the way they work best.”


She said most of the designs of future classrooms are based on the fact that “50% of current pre-kindergarten kids will work in jobs that don’t exist yet.” The jobs might not be known, Cogan said, but preparing through skills can “teach more executive functions” and “soft skills they would need no matter what.” This could look like encouraging group work or students to think beyond the classroom, perhaps in an outdoor setting.

Cogan said the schools with the modern construction design fared better during the pandemic — the outdoor classrooms were already built and the desks could be moved around easily, spaced socially distanced apart.

“It’s the concept of designing spaces we know the kids learn, education is delivered and that hasn’t changed, but how do we get to those spaces post-pandemic?” she said. “We are learning about air quality very rapidly, and learning about spaces and how to get fresh air.”

According to Cogan and CHA Architecture partner Alan Kuniholm, the new design of schools is not any more expensive than the traditional ones.

The schools highlighted in the presentation — examples included Caribou Community School and Mt. Ararat High School — were ones that received funding from the state in the past. Kuniholm added some districts will have a local contribution to the school, like through funding a bigger gym or technology space.

Olson said the process with the architecture firm is the first step to the “new Hussey.” Updating enrollment has been done, she said, but a potential new site for the school still needs to be determined.

There is an encore of Tuesday night’s presentation Thursday at 6 p.m. There will be another presentation May 10 at 7 p.m. to discuss “Role Model Schools.”

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