CUMBERLAND — As shovels were about to plunge into gravel, marking the start of construction of a performing arts center for School Administrative District 51, Gigi Sanchez noted that in many ways, the end of a voyage had been reached.

“Although we have the construction of the facility ahead of us, and that is quite an undertaking, we are really actually at the tail end of this journey,” the chairwoman of both the SAD 51 board and arts center building committee said at a ceremony Monday outside Greely High School.

“This started more than 17 years ago, and over the years the community has learned to keep dialoguing,” and determining how the project figures into the Cumberland-North Yarmouth district’s strategic plan, she said, noting that “at the end of the day, this was an asset that was missing not only from our facilities, but from our children’s education.”

SAD 75 voters initially approved a 475-seat facility in 2003 for $5 million, but the allocation ended up being insufficient to cover construction costs. That forced a $1.5 million follow-up referendum that failed, which killed the project.

A new version of the project returned to voters last November, with residents in Cumberland and North Yarmouth voting 4,149 to 3,953, a 2 percent margin, to borrow as much as $9.5 million to build the PAC.

The 26,000-square-foot center, designed by Stephen Blatt Architects to seat 500, will be built at the rear of Greely High, on a leveled-off area between the 303 Main St. building and the outdoor track. Detailed information on the project is posted at

It was there that Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony was held, featuring readings by the high school drama group, and music from the school band and students in grades one through 12. The PAC is scheduled to open in November 2018.

“We’re here to build a building, but really it’s the idea that we’re here to celebrate, and not the building,” SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter told the audience. “The building just adds.”

That idea, he noted, was “a vision, a promise, and … a dream”  the community had of one day building a PAC.

Various groups involved in the process posed at the ceremony’s end for photos, wearing hardhats and shoveling dirt. In the end, all students were invited to come up and join in the fun, and dust quickly spread over the area as the youths excitedly took to the task.

“We’re going to let them keep shoveling, and the project should be done in a week,” an amused Porter predicted.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Members of the Greely Performing Arts Center building committees shovel dirt Monday at a groundbreaking ceremony. The center at Greely High School in Cumberland is scheduled to open in November 2018.