Head of School Matt Ruby speaks at the dedication. (D. MacKnight)

Head of School Matt Ruby speaks at the dedication.
(D. MacKnight)

By Amy Chapman

Head of School Matt Ruby speaks at the dedication.

“Maine is made up of people who are doers, makers, and problem solvers, and this school is firmly rooted in that tradition,” said Gould Academy Head of School Matt Ruby, addressing a gathering Saturday at the dedication of the school’s new IDEAS Center.

The entire lower level of Hanscom Hall, the main classroom building at the center of the Gould campus, has been transformed into a space where students can collaborate to innovate, design, build, and problem-solve.

The move to create the IDEAS Center (the acronym stands for Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship, Arts, and Sciences) began after Gould alumna and longtime English teacher and librarian Sara Shifrin toured the Innovation Lab at the Nueva School in Hillsboro, Calif., in 2012.

Nueva, an independent school serving students in pre-K through grade 12, has been a pioneer in the concepts of inquiry-based learning and problem-solving through design thinking.


The IDEAS Center at Gould puts nearly every imaginable tool at the disposal of students and faculty, from handsaws and power woodworking tools to CNC routers, and from sewing machines to 3D printers. A soundproof media room equipped with a green screen and audio and visual equipment provides a space for recording music and video.

“This is stuff that I wish had existed when I was in high school,” said Gould’s Maker-in-Residence, Billy Ayotte.

Ayotte, who grew up in western Maine, studied computer technology at Central Maine Community College. He has previously worked in IT at Lesley University and at his alma mater, Oxford Hills High School, where he helped to renovate the engineering program at the technical school.

He was hired by Gould last year to facilitate students’ use of design equipment. He began working out of a small start-up makerspace that was housed in one room of the recently renovated Sanborn Family Library on Hanscom Hall’s main level.

The renovation of the building’s lower level provides open studio space where up to 50 students at a time can work independently, with faculty members, or in small groups.

A gift from the Tony and Renee Marlon Foundation helped to make the IDEAS Center possible, said Gould Director of Marketing and Communications Darcy Lambert. The Marlons’ grandson Hunter is a member of Gould’s class of 2016.


The architect for the $2.9 million project was Scott Simons of Portland, who also designed the 2012 renovation of the Sanborn Family Library. Peter Warren of Warren Construction Group in Freeport headed up the construction team.

“This renovation ushers in a new age of learning at Gould Academy, but a new age based on a culture that goes way back in the school’s history and the history of Maine,” said Ruby.

Great ideas are born of collaboration, he said, as well as access to the tools and space needed for experimentation.

“Entrepreneurs are rarely right the first time, and they rarely work alone,” Ruby said.

This is true of the work not only of inventors and entrepreneurs, but also of people in the arts and sciences, as well as professionals in social sciences and medicine, he told the crowd, which included trustees; present and former students, parents, and faculty; and community members.

The newly renovated space is also home to a new school store, a mailroom, and the Kunkle Student Center, assuring its status as the heart of the campus.


“Traditionally, all the action was assigned to classrooms,” said Ruby. “It will now be in a space that belongs to the kids.”

Announcing the naming of the Student Center for former Head of School Dan Kunkle and his wife, Kathy, Ruby said the Kunkles “guided the school through a time of extraordinary growth,” and laid the foundation for the innovative renovation of Hanscom Hall.

“The Kunkle Student Center has been open for less than a month,” said Ruby, “but it is already living up to its name,” providing a place for students to gather for snacking, socializing, and collaborative work.

Faculty member Randy Autrey now teaches his aeronautics and robotics classes in the IDEAS Center, where students have ready access to tools and technology to complete hands-on projects.

He said students will be using the new space for classes and independent projects across all academic disciplines.

“Math classes have been meeting here, using the white boards to work on problems,” said Autrey. “The kids can write their own work on the boards, then switch places,” enabling them to share different approaches to solving the same problem.

The moveable white boards allow the IDEAS Center to be configured in any number of ways, from a completely open space where many students can work together on a large collaborative project to small enclosed areas that let them focus their attention on a particular aspect of design or an individual problem.

The furniture, too, is made to be easily moved. Tables, desks, and stools can be separated or grouped as needed, and students can move from one design area to the next to work on different aspects of a project.

“Everything moves and everything changes,” said Autrey. “It’s a very dynamic place to teach

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