November 1, 2013

Bowdoin College helps beloved school make artful return

By Mary Pols
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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A Bowdoin College art class meets in one of the new drawing studios in the Edwards Center for Art and Dance in Brunswick. The center will have a grand opening this weekend.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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The former Longfellow Elementary School in Brunswick has been converted into a state of the art facility by Bowdoin College.

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open house: Edwards center for art and dance

BOWDOIN COLLEGE welcomes the public for a tour of the old Longfellow Elementary School, now the Robert H. and Blythe Bickel Edwards Center for Art and Dance.

WHEN: 1 to 3 pm. Saturday

WHERE: Enter on South Street in Brunswick.

OTHER: Students will lead tours and cider and light refreshments will be served.

As renovations got underway in November 2012, Cambridge-based Mansfield’s big- gest challenge was reconfiguring the former gym and cafeteria. There was no way to add a floor within the current structure and comply with seismic regulations.

Mansfield’s solution was to essentially drop a new building into the old. “The building was like a doughnut, with a hole in the middle. What we were able to do creatively was essentially fill the doughnut and increase the square footage of the building while not impacting the cool old aspects of it.”

He said his crews found happy surprises everywhere they turned. Under the carpet that lined the wide hallways was hardwood that turned out to be not just salvageable, but beautiful. Peeling back the ceiling of the old gym they found trusses that he described as “heroic and majestic.”

“That became a theme of the project,” he said. “Uncovering these delights.” For Judd, the slate chalkboard in a classroom that now serves as the print finishing room or the cheery red and blue floor of what was once a computer room are more than just charming details; they are windows to Longfellow’s past.

“We tried to leave things in a way so that people could come back through and feel that they were in their old school,” Judd said.

Jackie Sartoris, a former Brunswick town councilor whose children went to Longfellow, said she has mixed feelings about the renovation. On the one hand, she’s happy the building is being used again and expects to love what Bowdoin has done with it. But at a time when Brunswick finds itself in need of more room to house its elementary school students, it will be bittersweet to see the old Longfellow in its new incarnation, she said.

Brunswick closed Longfellow when its new consolidated elementary school, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was about to open. Stowe was originally intended to hold all of Brunswick’s 3rd through 5th grade students, with K-2 students divided between two old neighborhood schools, Jordan Acres and Coffin. But snow damage to the roof of Jordan Acres necessitated moving the entire second grade into Stowe and all of the K-1 students to Coffin.

Now school officials are considering building another new school and taking other interim measures, including moving 5th graders into Brunswick Junior High School.

On a wall inside the new center, named for Bowdoin’s 13th president, Robert Edwards and his wife Blythe Bickel, Bowdoin erected a plaque memorializing the old school, words paying homage to the past. But for anyone who attended Longfellow between 1924 and 2011, that will not be the only memento they find.

Peek inside the drawing studio and see within it the old familiar bones of the former library, formerly filled with the likes of biographies of Amelia Earhart and Big Nate books, now housing easels, artist’s busts and on weekday mornings, college students, not children.

Walk down the still sloping hallways and past the old kindergarten, where a student prepares to make prints, and stools line the sunny bay window.

For the college and its architect, it all feels just right, and they hope that the same will be true for the community.

“I think it was almost meant to be,” Mansfield said. “There was a sort of karma about the building. When we started looking at the amount of square footage we had to have it almost matched directly the square footage available. It became evident that we didn’t need to change anything about the outside. It was just up to us to bring the building back to life.”

Staff Writer Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Artists easels stand in the corner of a drawing studio at the new center.

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The new Edwards Center for Art and Dance includes a large, fully equipped photographic darkroom.

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Art department faculty member Mark Wethli shows examples of the work of students in his public art class.

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