The renovated and expanded Crooked River Elementary School in Casco will open next week with up to 200 students in grades 3-5. Kristen McNerney / Lakes Region Weekly

After 12 years, Crooked River Elementary School in Casco will reopen its doors next week.

Changes since the school’s closing in 2009 to cut costs include a two-story addition, a performance stage in the gymnasium that doubles as a classroom, a reconfigured cafeteria, a new fire sprinkler system, sidewalks and a bus loop.

For some, the changes at the school for third-fifth graders ensure things can get back to normal.

“To come back here feels just like coming back home,” fifth grade teacher Betsy Mayo said.

An educator of 36 years and 2003 Maine Teacher of the Year, Mayo has been teaching in a portable classroom for the past four years at Songo Locks School in Naples. She was transferred from Crooked River to Songo Locks after the two schools were merged as a cost-cutting measure.

SAD 61 Superintendent Al Smith told the Lakes Region Weekly in March that the cost of leasing modular classrooms at Songo Locks exceeded the cost of renovating Crooked River in the long run. SAD 61 serves students in Casco, Naples and Bridgton.

The $9 million renovations began after voters approved them in March 2019, but the effort began years before.

Mayo and Holly Tremblay, also a fifth grade teacher who taught at Crooked River before being transferred to Songo Locks, said they “worked for years to get the school back open” and “were out there picketing” for efforts to get the renovations passed by voters. The effort failed at the polls both 2015 and 2016.

Songo Locks “was immediately overcrowded” when the two schools merged, said Tremblay, who taught there in a modular classroom.

Back at Crooked River under one roof, she and Mayo are neighbors again, with abutting second floor classrooms.

“It’s nice to not have to worry about the weather,” Mayo said. “We’d have to pick our clothes and shoes for the day in preparation for going in and out of the (portable) building.”

The new cafeteria means “our kids won’t have to eat lunch in the gym anymore,” Tremblay said.

School social worker Jaimie Klimek, who spent the last four years between Songo Locks and Stevens Brook Elementary School in Bridgton, said she looks forward to working at the new school, where she will more space to work with students in small groups.

“At Songo Locks everything was at full capacity at all times,” she said.

Klimek’s fourth grade daughter Aubrey, who previously attended Songo Locks, said she is excited have her own locker at Crooked River this year, something she wasn’t afforded at the former school. Her sister, Addison, who spent last year in a fifth-grade portable classroom, said she missed school three or four times when the heat became unbearable in the tiny building.

Principal Steve Gagne, who headed two elementary schools in Skowhegan prior to being hired by the Lake Region School District in July, said 180 to 200 students will be welcomed in on Sept. 1. More than two dozen classroom teachers and specialists – some new – will work in the building and be supplemented by educational technicians, Gagne said.

Temporary roles have also been filled, with two included in the teacher totals, and the rest interventionists, through federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding. The two-years positions are meant to assess learning fallbacks from the pandemic and catch students up academically, Gagne said.

“I’m just excited to have the kids back in school full-time,” he said.

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