Rosaleigh Moulton, Felicia Meas and Etain Cullen, all sophomores, check out a map of the new Sanford High School and Regional Technical Center, which opened for classes on Wednesday. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

SANFORD — Students exited their buses and walked through the front doors of the new Sanford High School and Regional Technical Center for the first time on Wednesday morning.

It was a sunny fall day, and the foliage on the campus was vibrant with color. It was a good day to open a new school – a morning that had been long sought in this community – the initial quest for a new facility replace the 1970 Sanford High School began about 15 years ago.

As it happened, as the students streamed through the doors, it was an occasion to remember.

The new Sanford High School and Regional Technical Center  opened for the first time on Wednesday in Sanford. BEN MCCANNA/Portland Press Herald

“It’s enormous, you’re going to get lost,” one student was overheard saying to a fellow student.

“Its really cool, really fun,” said student Liam Daly.

“It feels like a mall,” said student Rosaleigh Moulton.

Doors opened at 7 a.m. Wednesday and students gathered in the cafeteria until about 7:20 a.m. when they were free to explore the 330,000-square-foot building and find their classrooms before the 7:45 a.m. bell that signaled classes would soon begin.

Students were greeted by faculty and administration including Sanford High Principal Matt Petermann, who held the door open wide for students to enter for much of the time before classes bega, n and members of the Sanford School Committee were on hand to provide welcomes.

“This is unbelievable,” said Sanford School Committee chairman John Roux as he looked around the lobby, filled with students exploring their new school.

“This (quest) has been going on for 15 years, and look at what we’ve got,” said Roux. “This is an exciting day for Sanford.”

He said one of the most exciting attributes is the community support – as evidenced by the attendance at football games – around 2,500 to 3,000 people at most games, since they began using Alumni Stadium back in September, before the building was ready for classes, he said.

Groundbreaking for the new school took place on June 1, 2016. All but about $11 million of the $103 million facility was paid through Maine’s school construction program; Sanford voters pledged the rest. And there have been significant contributions from private donors and corporations for extras that the construction budget didn’t include, like helping to outfit the new, 900-seat Performing Arts Center, scheduled to open towards the end of the year, equipping some of the labs and more.

Seniors Brennen Freeman and Jasmine Sherman were checking out the building trades department.

Freeman is taking those courses along with automotive technology, while Sherman will be concentrating art and culinary arts.

“I love it,” said Freeman. “And its a lot bigger than the old school.”

“It felt cramped in the old school,” said Sherman.

The two will be among the first to graduate from the new facility in June.

The opening had originally been scheduled for Sept. 4, but construction delays early on, when masons and steel hangers were hard to come by, meant the loss of a month that despite strong effort, couldn’t be surmounted.

Then came another delay, but it was just a day. The school department received an occupancy permit for the building on Friday and were originally scheduled to open Tuesday, but officials realized faculty and staff needed more time to get everything ready, and so the opening was pushed to Wednesday.

Sanford Schools Superintendent David Theoharides was on the campus early Wednesday morning and confessed he hadn’t slept much the might before.

“It is extremely exciting to finally get in,” said Theoharides. “The students say it reminds them of a college campus.”

Theoharides pointed out that unlike the old Sanford High School, which sported a separate technical wing at the rear of the building, the new school is integrated, with academic and technical courses being taught in the same educational pathways.

One pathway is business and marketing, and includes culinary arts, baking and pastry, an Academy of Business, computer systems program, landscaping and horticulture, cosmetology and a restaurant, which will be run by students and open to the public for several meals a week.

The science and technology pathway includes auto technology, building trades, electrical wiring, engineering and architectural design, precision manufacturing, welding and metal fabrication, engineering applications with robotics and more.

The arts and communication wing includes video production, digital design, music, art, theater and drama.

The health and human services pathway includes early childhood education, emergency medical services technology, law enforcement technology, fire science and health occupations.

The new school is built for 1,800 students, said Theoharides —Sanford’s own 1,200 students and the remainder from the 22 other communities that send students to the regional technical center.

A public open house is set for 1 p.m. Oct. 28.

As students checked out the building, faculty and staff contemplated the first day.

“It’s so good to see kids here. I can’t stop smiling,” said the district’s technical integrator, Andrea Cole.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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