PORTLAND – Excitement is building at Clifford Elementary School for a planned move to the new Ocean Avenue Elementary School after February vacation.

Clifford families and staff members held a “packing party” on Saturday morning, loading boxes with books and other classroom materials that are destined to be moved to the new school Feb. 21-25.

Anne Perley, mother of a Clifford kindergartner, organized the packing event to dispel some of the anxiety associated with the move.

“Some teachers were feeling a little overwhelmed by the idea of moving 100 years of stuff,” Perley said. “I thought it would make it more fun for everyone if we turned it into a party.”

The packing party is one of several efforts being made to ease the transition from the cramped, 104-year-old school on Falmouth Street to the sprawling, $14.2 million school in the Back Cove neighborhood.

Clifford will be closed following the move, leaving Maine’s largest school district with 10 elementary schools. The move was expected to happen this summer, so students could start at the new school in September, but construction finished early.

The state has approved the move, the city has issued an occupancy permit and furniture has arrived at the new school, which was designed by WBRC Architects-Engineers of Portland and built by Ledgewood Construction of South Portland.

If all goes as planned, students will start attending the new school on Feb. 28.

“The kids and the teachers and the parents are definitely excited,” said Principal Beverly Coursey. “There’s a lot to miss about this school, but there’s a lot to gain at the new school.”

The new school has a gym and a cafeteria. At Clifford, students eat lunch and hold gym classes in the basement, navigating around massive pillars that support the first floor.

The new school also has bathrooms on every floor that are close to classrooms. Clifford’s only bathrooms are in the basement, which is quite a hike from third-floor classrooms.

Other features of the new school include energy-efficient building materials and equipment, handicapped accessible facilities and an environmentally sensitive design.

Michael Johanning, WBRC’s project manager, said Ledgewood is addressing a punch list of largely cosmetic problems that must be fixed before the move, such as scuffed paint and cracked ceiling tiles.

Superintendent Jim Morse is expected to authorize and present a moving plan at an upcoming school board meeting.

Coursey has hosted tours of the new school for parents of Clifford students and of students who will be transferring from Presumpscot, Longfellow and Riverton elementary schools in the fall. Those are the schools that absorbed students from the neighborhood formerly served by the Baxter Elementary School, which was torn down to make way for the new school.

In the coming weeks, students will visit the new school twice before the move: once to find their classrooms and check out all the facilities, and a second time to move their personal items and have lunch in the cafeteria.

Clifford’s PTO is looking forward to the move, too, Perley said. It will welcome new families from the other schools and take on projects at the new school, including fundraising for playground equipment.

“It’s going to be a whole new world for our kids,” Perley said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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