Staff walk into the new Kate Furbish Elementary School on Thursday. The pre-k through 2nd grade school will open with the rest of the district Sept. 14. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick’s new Kate Furbish Elementary School will open Monday, and while its grand unveiling may look far different than hoped thanks to the coronavirus, school officials are ready to open the doors to Brunswick’s youngest learners. 

The pre-kindergarten through second grade school, originally estimated at $28 million but bid for $20.3 million, covers roughly 90,000 square feet. It is designed to hold 660 students, though this year, enrollment for this year is around 584, according to Principal Steve Ciembroniewicz.

Principal Steve Ciembroniewicz points out details in a new first-grade classroom. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Of those students, about 25% will be learning remotely, Ciembroniewicz said. The remaining students will be split into two cohorts and “cohort A” will come back to school on Monday and Tuesday, while  “cohort B” will follow suit Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be reserved for cleaning and planning.

Walking through the halls, starting on the “forest floor” with the “acorns and pinecones” wing for pre-kindergarteners, and moving up to the “canopy” where the pine and oak wings house second graders, everything in the school feels intentional. The ceilings get higher as students move through the grades, and the lights are reminiscent of fireflies in some areas and dragonflies in others. The “biophilic” earthen playgrounds are designed to allow kids explore their creativity and foster a connection with nature. 

“I really drive my team to develop a ‘parti,’ a strong organizing idea that leads us through the decision-making process,” Matt Pitzer, lead architect said, adding that “It’s important for the schools and educational market to have a strong defining concept.” 

“For Kate Furbish we came to the parti of nature and the growth you see in nature.” 

That theme of nature and growth plays a role in the curriculum and within the community, with several nature preserves nearby, Pitzer said, and that the school ended up being named after a Maine botanist was just an added bonus.  

The school is named after botanist Catherine Furbish, who devoted over 60 years of her life to classifying and illustrating the native flora of Maine. Furbish’s art is a design focal point for the school, and murals of her drawings adorn the walls. 

The school sits on the same site as the former Jordan Acres School, which closed in 2011 due to structural problems. It will replace the 65-year-old K-1 Coffin Elementary School, though the district has not yet determined what will happen to the Coffin school in the future. 

Saying goodbye to Coffin, especially after being robbed of the second half of their final year, was difficult, Ciembroniewicz said, but because of that, they are more excited than ever to welcome the kids back.

A contractor fills in an earthen playground space with mulch, one of the last major pieces to be completed on the roughly $20 million school. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Now, fully moved in, teachers are arranging the desks and chairs (six feet apart), putting books on the shelves and posters on their walls. 

The actual building is also almost ready, with just a few pieces remaining— the playgrounds still need to be finished and there are a few mechanical things to be done. The school will be ready for students on Monday, but Matt Pitzer, the CHA Architecture architect who designed the building, said it will be another three to six weeks before all the finishing touches and fully complete. 

Considering the challenges with the coronavirus pandemic, CHA Architecture (formerly PDT Architects), Ledgewood Construction and the Brunswick School Department have been fortunate to see the project completed on time, he said. 

The school will eventually feature a 1,000-square-foot “discovery classroom,” a $450,000 gift from Bowdoin College. The classroom will be housed in its own building on the school site with sinks, tables and storage space to aid in nature experiments, visiting art and science programs, presentations and other hands-on activities. Plans for the building are still in the works.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Steve Ciembroniewicz’s name.

Kate Furbish Elementary School Principal Steve Ciembroniewicz and Assistant Principal Annie Young stand beside a mural of a drawing by Catherine Furbish, for whom the school is named. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

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