SCARBOROUGH – For all the virtual tours and informational meetings and public debates that have been held, last Friday was the first showing of the new Wentworth Intermediate School to the only interest group that really matters – the students who will attend classes there.

“I think what children got out of it was to recognize that something truly is happening,” said Principal Anne-Mayre Dexter. “Because up until now they haven’t been allowed anywhere near the project. They heard a lot about it for a year, they were asked to vote on playground equipment, but now they get to see that something really is going to happen.”

Getting that close-up look prompted more than a few questions.

“How do they balance on the beams all day?” asked third-grader Nathan Dickinson, seemingly mystified by the construction workers seen scampering across steel girders from one of three vantage points visited by students.

At another stop on the tour, just outside the fence erected by RC Construction around the worksite, Facilities Director Todd Jepson told students about the 85 geothermal wells dug 520 feet into the ground, which will heat and cool the new 163,000-square-foot building, set to open September 2014.

“Now, how warm do you think the water is down there?” asked Jepson.

“90,000 degrees,” shouted one student.

“Well, I think you’re zeroing in on the center of the earth there,” said Jepson. “Anyone else?”

“900 degrees,” said another student.

“OK, you’re getting closer,” said Jepson.

Later Jepson admitted he wasn’t sure how many students grasped the concept behind the geothermal units.

“You know, a lot of these kids dig a hole in their back yard and think that’s a long way down. So, 520 feet is kind of hard for them to grasp,” he said. “And, I think a lot of them get how we can cool the building with water that comes up from the ground between 45 and 50 degrees, but they don’t quite get how we use water that temperature to heat the building, how we only have to heat it from 50 to 100 degrees instead of boiling it to 212 to do anything, like we do now.”

Still, clerk of the works Frank Verhoorn Jr. said he believes the children at least grasped some of the environmental benefits of the geothermal system.

“I really have to compliment the leadership of the town of Scarborough for being very progressive on that front,” said Verhoorn.

A clerk of the works on a number of Maine school projects, including the new Paris Elementary School and the post-arson rebuild at Fryeburg Academy, Verhoon, of Denmark, says Wentworth is coming along as well as any project he’s ever overseen. It is, he said, on time and on budget.

That budget came in at $27.94 million bid by Arthur C. Dudley Contractor/Builder Inc. of Standishm more than $3 million under the $31.2 million estimate. In November 2011, Scarborough residents approved a $39.1 million bond for construction of a new building to replace the town’s intermediate school, built in 1962 as a junior high. Since then, Town Manager Tom Hall has announced that refinancing of old debt has allowed the town to fold in payments on the Wentworth bond at no impact to the tax rate.

All that may be good news, but for students, the real concern, after reviewing the construction site, and taking a virtual 3-D walk though of the building with Dan Cecil of Auburn-based Harriman Associates, which designed the building, was what their classrooms will look like.

“I learned a lot about the new heating and how it is better than what we have now,” said fourth-grader Aydan Sorg. “I also learned about what the new Wentworth will look like. But they didn’t really tell us about the classrooms.”

“It’s true,” said Cecil. “Most of the kids really wanted to know what their classrooms will look like. They are very spatial at that age and they wanted to know things look like, will we still have wings.”

Then answer is no, but different sections of the classroom block will be color coded, which students seemed to appreciate. They also sat up when they saw that the cafeteria will be separate from the library, though joined by a stage. And speaking of spatial, students reserved the most audible “ooohs” for the library, or media center as it will be called, with its curved walls, bright colors and multi-level floor.

According to Dexter, part of the purpose of last week’s “learning event” was to impart safety lessons as well as to let students get a close-up look of the building that, until now, has only existed for them in terms of their assistance picking out playground equipment last year.

Dexter advised on the vests, eye protection, steel-toed boots workers wear, even demonstrating by donning her own pink hard hat.

Building committee Chairman Ron Koziell, on hand in his role as chief operating officer of CPM Construction, brought along a tractor trailer, bucket loader and dump truck for students to see. A few even got to blow the air horns while all learned what the tell-tale “beep, beep, beep” means, when a large vehicle backs up.

The learning goes beyond Friday’s tour. A number of teachers are incorporating the construction project into their lesson plans. In one class, students built a cardboard mock-up of the new school and electrified it, to learn about basic electrical concepts. Another group got to design and build a tool shed, learning basic construction skills of their own along the way. They learning about weight and balance and structure, which is high-level stuff for kids at this age.

“There are a whole series of learnings that have come directly from this project, and it’s all hands-on,” said Dexter. “The kiddos have done all this designing and building related to the new school and that’s where the richness is. It would be nothing if it just went up beside us. There’d be no value.”

The big rigs, said Dexter, were a treat for the older children, who will have moved on to middle school before the new Wentworth School opens in September 2014.

However, there’s more to come. Dexter says she is working on a “special hush-hush” project for fifth-graders and another for fourth-graders that “will allow them to become a part of this new building” even though they will never get to attend classes in the new Wentworth.

“There is absolutely some disappointment there about not being able to be in the new building, but we want them to know that they had a life experience here and that they, too, have a stake in the building,” said Dexter.

Students at Wentworth Intermediate School in Scarborough last week received a tour of the construction of the new Wentworth school, set to open in 2014. Here, the school department facilities director, Todd Jepson, describes the construction project in the background. Photos by Rich Obrey

At a presentation in the band room, architect and project manager Dan Cecil used an animated slideshow to walk students through the new Wentworth building.

Paul Koziell, chairman of the Wentworth School Building Committee, had no lack of student volunteers to operate air horns on the trucks he brought to the school April 26 in his role as chief operating officer of CPM Construction. Staff photo by Duke Harrington

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