GORHAM – Great Falls Elementary School will welcome its first students Monday, six years after the state identified the town’s need for a new school.

But it still may be several more months before the building is completed.

The general contractor, Davis & Hanscom Inc., was supposed to finish its work by the end of July, but construction crews were grouting tile in the entranceway Wednesday and still have some cosmetic work to do, said Norm Justice, facilities manager for the school district and the person chosen to oversee the $15.8 million project.

Justice said the contractor will have to cover any additional costs incurred by the construction delay.

He said officials a couple of weeks ago had to consider delaying the start of classes because the work was behind schedule.

“We decided we could make it,” Justice said Wednesday.

The opening of the 85,000-square-foot school, on more than 20 acres of former farmland off Route 237, marks a major shift in elementary education in Gorham. The town’s three elementary schools all will now serve kindergarten through fifth grade.

Previously, the Village School on Robie Street had been for third- through fifth-graders. Narragansett School on Main Street served kindergarten through second grade, as did White Rock School, which closed in June.

Great Falls will serve about 475 students in its first year. It has the capacity for about 550 students and room for a future addition. The new school will eliminate the need for 20 portable elementary school classrooms, some of which had been in use for 12 years.

“This building has really relieved a lot of pressure on the district,” said Superintendent Ted Sharp.

Sharp said there’s also a benefit to shifting grades around so students stay in the same school for a longer period of time.

“You want to minimize change for kids,” he said.

For Jessica Gagne, who has daughters going into third and fifth grades and a son going into second grade, it’s “such a relief” to have all three of her children riding the bus and attending Great Falls together.

“It’s so huge,” she said. “The girls can watch out for their brother.”

The Gagne family was walking through Great Falls Tuesday to help 7-year-old Niko, who has special needs, get used to his new school. They also stopped by 8-year-old Sophie’s soon-to-be third-grade classroom, complete with a smartboard, pistachio-colored walls and bright orange stools that wiggle underneath restless students.

The school, designed by PDT Architects, also has a geothermal heating and cooling system and is located next to a nature preserve with walking trails.

“It’s cool,” Sophie Gagne said about the school.

The Maine Department of Education in 2005 identified White Rock School as an inadequate facility for the students it needed to serve. The district spent nearly a year trying to negotiate the purchase of land on the corner of Huston and Harding Bridge roads for a new school, but the deal fell through.

About six months later, the district secured a site about a mile away, where Great Falls was built over the past two years.

Although the land negotiations caused a delay, the timing turned out to be financially beneficial. By the time the project went out to bid, at the low point of the country’s recession, the cost came in about $10 million less than originally projected.

In addition, Sharp said, the state agreed to pay about 90 percent of the costs.

This week, there were ladders, power drills and unpacked boxes throughout the building. Workers were washing windows, laying flooring and painting walls. None of that worried Sharp. The school will be ready for students, he said.

Classes start Monday for kindergarten pupils and Tuesday for the rest of the school.

The building already has a temporary certificate of occupancy. Justice said a permanent one wasn’t awarded because of an issue with the stage in the cafeteria. Panels hanging from the ceilings were in the way of the sprinklers. The panels have already been taken down, he said.

The scene at Great Falls this week was reminiscent of Westbrook Middle School a year and a half ago, when officials decided at the last minute to delay its opening.

Justice, who also oversaw the Westbrook project, said there’s less work left to do on Great Falls than there was on the Westbrook school and, unlike in Westbrook, officials have already signed off on it.

“This has been much smoother,” he said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

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