PERU – A pile of brown dirt surrounded by snow was topped with dozens of youngsters Tuesday afternoon as an official groundbreaking was held for a new elementary school.

Along with dozens of children were several members of the SAD 21 board, former Peru Superintendent John Turner, a couple of selectmen, construction people and several dozen parents and friends of the district’s students.

“This is a great shot in the arm for SAD 21,” Superintendent Tom Ward said. “This whole site will be a show place.”

The groundbreaking, although symbolic, has been long awaited. The district succeeded in getting the state to pay $14 million for the new school that will house 380 prekindergarten through grade five students.

Ward said district residents have already set aside $280,000 toward the project, so they will not experience any school tax impact.

The two-story school with gym and athletic fields is expected to be completed in August 2008.

“We’ll have a major celebration then,” Ward said.

Rick Colpitts, chairman of the SAD 21 board, said when the school is being built, some items will be placed in the cornerstone to help people remember what it was like when the school was being built.

“This is a real momentous occasion that will change our community. We’re hopeful for the future,” Colpitts said.

When the school is completed, fifth-graders at Dirigo Middle School will be moved to it, and the four modular trailers will go. Also, the Dixfield Elementary School will discontinue use of one modular unit and become the site of the central office, alternative education program and several high school classrooms. The use of the double-wide modular at the high school will also be discontinued.

The 50-plus-year-old Peru Elementary School will close and be turned over to the town.

During the planning process for the new school, Peru joined with SAD 21 and Canton Elementary School closed.

Clearing of the 35-acre parcel has been under way for several weeks, Ward said. When spring arrives, concrete work will begin. The property was purchased from June Moore, Isadore Brann and Andy Walker.

Architects are the Portland Design Team; excavation work is being completed by K & K Construction of Auburn; and the general contractor is Langford and Low of Portland.

“This is a tremendous gift,” Ward said.