SULLIVAN — A principal architect at the firm designing the new Sumner Memorial High School finds the Downeast area rich in distinctive architecture — specifically the libraries, churches and Grange halls.
Lyndon Keck of PDT Architects in Portland said the firm likes to incorporate elements of existing buildings in their designs.
“One of the things we really like about public buildings such as libraries, courthouses and schools is we like to make the buildings a reflection of the local community,” Keck said.
The Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) School Board voted May 2 to hire PDT Architects to design the new Sumner. The state will carry the lion’s share of the construction and other costs.
Business Manager David Bridgham said the board’s vote in favor of PDT Architects was unanimous.
“The board had a feeling that PDT had a good grasp of the area,” Bridgham said. “They spent a lot of time at Sumner and in the town getting a feel for the local architecture.”
He said PDT also gave an “excellent presentation” and has worked on everything from large, expensive projects to buildings with a very functional design.
Among three related projects completed by PDT are Phase 1 of renovations and additions to Freeport High School, the new construction of Cony High School in Augusta and Mount Blue Campus in Farmington, which involved an extensive addition.
Several board members visited Cony High School. Board member Alison Johnson said she was impressed by how the architects incorporated a feature of the original high school, which was a flat iron building design.
Keck said the world of education is changing rapidly and his firm welcomes the opportunity to create something small, innovative and state-of-the-art.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for Maine to set a standard for how innovative they can be,” he said.
Keck said that although the Department of Education has parameters based on the number of students, they also are flexible.
“They are interested in schools that work,” he said.
Keck said the old formula of having so many classrooms, each the same size, no longer holds in many educational environments.
New schools are more likely to have traditional sized classrooms, medium size rooms for collaborations and even smaller seminar space.
“The trend in education is more project based learning and more personalized learning,” Keck said. “What those two things mean is that the traditional model of a hallway with lots of classrooms does not serve that model well.”
“It’s also important to make sure schools are flexible enough so that they can be changed in the future,” Keck said. “You don’t want all the walls made of concrete and concrete blocks. Education is changing all the time.”
Keck said he spent a day driving around most of the nine communities in the district, “admiring the sense of community that these small towns have in Maine.”
“I think that’s one of our precious resources,” he said. “You feel more of that when you get out of the urban area. We are excited about an opportunity to create an iconic structure that continues the traditions in those towns.”
One recent innovation, he said, is food courts where students also gather to study and collaborate in small groups.
Keck said Sumner is progressive with its industrial arts program, Pathways alternative education program and “learning commons” within the library.
“The technology program is like an industrial arts program, on steroids,” he said. “It’s great because it’s how kids connect with hands-on learning. The school is obviously tired and needs to be replaced, but a lot of exciting work is happening there.”
RSU officials met with the state Department of Education last week to discuss where the school might be located.
The state also requires an analysis of what it would cost to renovate the existing building versus building a new school.
Prior to the site selection, members of the public are asked to vote on whether they want a new school and where they would like to see it built.
That vote and subsequent votes become part of the record in considering a new Sumner.
The district owns 33 acres at the Sumner location, but was told by Keck that the land beyond the baseball field has a covenant attached by the U.S. National Park Service.
“It limits what can be done for anything beyond the ball field,” Bridgham said.
Keck said the National Park Service makes money available to local communities around the country through a parks and conservation program.
The funds, he said, are used to build basketball courts, city parks, baseball fields, football fields and other public spaces.
“When you get that grant you are providing the federal government with a permanent protective easement on the land covered by the grant, which is known as the 6F program,” Keck said.
He said the program is administered by the state, which has authority to lift the restriction.
“There are ways to do it and the people who administer the program are very cooperative,” said Keck, who said his firm encountered the same issue on city land in Caribou.
Once the site has been firmed up, a public meeting is held to hear what people would like to see for programming in the new school, the structure itself and what grades would be included.
There has been discussion about building a combination middle and high school.
Bridgham said the state might balk at building a new school that would include so few students.
Sumner’s enrollment is about 240.
The state and public must approve the concept for the school.
Finally, a voter referendum is held on the project once cost estimates are in place and bond documents are prepared.
“We will take the bond to the voters in a district-wide referendum, mostly likely in the 2019-2020 school year,” Bridgham said.
Once the bonding is approved, the RSU would solicit bids and likely begin construction in the fall of 2021.