Big changes at BAHS, hidden in plain sight

Understated upgrades to 53-year-old building fix longtime problems
By Ethan Andrews | Sep 08, 2017
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Belfast Area High School Principal Mary Alice McLean and Assistant Principal Terry Kenniston look over the school's lap pool, overhauled this summer as part of a $7.6 million renovation of the of the 53-year-old building.

Belfast — On Sept. 5, Belfast Area High School Assistant Principal Terry Kenniston pointed out some of the significant upgrades completed over the summer as part of a $7.6 million overhaul of the half-century-old school. Most were so completely hidden in plain sight that Kenniston might have been praising the emperor's new clothes, had that story actually been about amazing fabric.

Lights throughout the school have been replaced with LED fixtures. Those in larger spaces, like the gym, Kenniston said, use individual motion sensors to illuminate — like the sidewalk in Michael Jackson's Billie Jean video — only when someone is close enough to need them.

"We're hoping they get enough length on these timers so they never go off during a basketball game," he joked.

A pair of oil-burning boilers were replaced with a propane unit — during a recent parent orientation, a staff member gushed that the new boiler was so efficient that its chimney was made of plastic. A second propane boiler was installed as a backup.

Kenniston said there were rumors that the heating system would automatically dial down to save energy when the lights in any given room were off, but he didn't know for sure.

The new lights and boilers, along with similar upgrades at Troy Howard Middle School and Capt. Albert Stevens Elementary School, are part of a $4.5 million contract with Siemens that school officials anticipate will pay for itself over time with savings from the new efficiencies.

The high school gym and auditorium got a new air-handling system to replace the antiquated blower that Kenniston said had to be turned off during plays and other quiet events. The massive ducts running overhead were painted to match the ceiling, lending to the appearance that nothing has changed.

Equally discreet new ductwork runs through the pool area, and a solid wall now separates the spectators' balcony from the gym. Kenniston expected this would dampen any noise spillover from concurrent sports events and control the historic overheating of both spaces.

"If the pool was 82 degrees, the gym was 90," he said.

Even without the dividing wall, Kenniston said the new ventilation system should keep the pool spectator area significantly cooler.

This summer, the bottom of the pool was jack-hammered out and replaced with a new liner. As with many of the other changes around the building, the view from arm's length — in this case, the old tile deck surrounding the pool — is essentially the same, though swimmers might revel in the upgrade.

When the school was built in 1964, the indoor pool was the first of its kind in a Maine high school. It cost $90,000, much of which came from the sale of a district property to a supermarket chain in 1957. This summer's renovations cost roughly $128,000.

Elsewhere in the school, new floor tiles have been installed in the hallways, replacing old asbestos ones. The cafeteria kitchen got a complete makeover with all new stainless steel appliances, racks, sinks and counters.

Food Service Manager Linda Harvey guessed that the previous kitchen equipment was 30 to 40 years old.

"I've been here 25 years, and it was here when I got here," she said.

Harvey said she and the kitchen staff love the new equipment, but she joked about finding things in the somewhat-rearranged space.

Work still remains to be done at the high school. Regional School Unit 71 Superintendent Paul Knowles laid out the rest of the renovation schedule:

The detached math wing will be demolished later this year, and construction of a new one will be put out to bid in December with work starting in late winter or early spring, "depending on the kind of winter we have."

In April 2018, renovations will begin on the locker rooms. Next summer will see upgrades to the cafeteria, stage and entrance canopy. At beginning of the 2018-19 school year, special education classrooms will be renovated, and the RSU 71 administrative offices and adult education will be moved into the high school.

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