FARMINGTON — Angelica Spencer, the mother of a third-grader at W. G. Mallett School, is excited that her daughter, Nichole, is in the new school's first class.
“There were so many problems with the old school," Spencer said before the dedication ceremony Saturday at the new school. "In the winter, it was cold and kids were always getting coughs and had raspy throats. Or it could be so hot they had to send the kids home.”
And then there were the safety issues, Spencer said, recalling how a child lost a finger when the heavy bathroom door slammed on her hand.
“This school is bright and colorful and beautiful,” she said.
About 300 parents, children, community members, former teachers, administrators and alumni attended the event Saturday.
Daphne Giampietro, a student in Alex Ernst's third-grade class, was one of five children whose poems were selected to be read at the dedication. Because she gets stage-fright, she said before the program, she had asked if her entry could be read by her friend, Nicole Spencer-Gardner.
“I wanted to write a poem about why I like the school, why I think everyone should like it,” said Daphne, a new student who moved here from Baton Rouge, La.
“I really like it here; the rooms are quiet and sound-proof, and I like the gym because there's a lot of space to run around,” she said.
“And we have a rock wall, and the library is big and any book you want, you can take out,” Nicole said. “And I really like that in the cafeteria, there are a lot of tables, all spread out, and you can sit wherever you want.”
Other young poets reading their works were Natasha Abbott, Isabelle Decker, Iliana Marquez and Emma Charles.
Saturday's program kicked off with a performance by the new third-grade choir under the direction of Carol Shumway, followed by the poetry readings. School and state officials spoke, as did architect Stephen Blatt of Stephen Blatt Associates of Portland.
“We have built 60 schools and this project has been one of the most collaborative,” said Blatt, speaking from the new stage that fills one end of the colorfully decorated cafeteria.
“It is not just the architect or the engineer who worked on this," he told the crowd. "It was the client, which is you. This was a wonderful collaboration, and one thing everyone agreed on was that this needed to be a good building to teach in and to learn in."
The building process was community-driven, with a building committee made up of citizens, teachers and parents who worked with the administration and architects.
Blatt said Farmington was a “terrific town to work in” and that it had "opened its arms to make things happen.”
He said one example was the importance the community placed on keeping Mallett downtown, rather than relocating it to RSU 9 property beyond Cascade Brook School a mile away. The architects came up with a design that worked on a small lot by putting the playground where the 80-year-old school was to be razed.
The playground is slated to be completed next year.
“The community wanted to keep the neighborhood vibrant,” Blatt said.
Among the features of the new school are the latest “green” innovations, he said.
Abundant south-facing glass windows bring in light. Automatic light switches adjust light levels to available sunshine. A wood-pellet boiler affordably heats the super-insulated building. And a white roof reflects the sun in the summer and keeps first-floor classrooms cool, he said.
Principal Tracy Williams told the audience that the project reawakened a school and community interest in the history of the school and in the ways teaching has changed over the past 80 years since the original Mallett was built.
In the lobby, she said a display of old and new photos and school memorabilia are juxtaposed to compare the past and the future, showing what life was like at Mallett in its earlier years.
In contrast to the old classrooms and textbooks, flat-screen video monitors in the lobby showed slide shows of recent classroom scenes.
“It is exciting to think that years from now, people will look back and think about what we were doing at this time,” Williams said.
RSU 9 Superintendent Michael Cormier said when he was hired 19 years ago, an application to replace the Mallett School had just been submitted.
“When we rose to the top of the list, we were ecstatic,” he said. “This building is a tribute to our children from the past, today and for years to come.”
Other speakers were former Assistant Superintendent Susan Pratt; James Banks from the Maine Department of Education's school construction program; and Greg Webber, chairman of the Mallett Building Committee.
Also on the Mallett Building Committee were James Andrews, Richard Davis, Austin Foss, Vicki Foster, David Leavitt, Joyce Morton, Mardie Porter, Kris Pottle, Susan Pratt, Yvette Robinson, Betsy Turcotte and Tracy Williams.