PORTLAND, Maine — The ceremonial grand opening of Portland’s Ocean Avenue Elementary School was punctuated by superlatives Thursday evening as the facility was lauded for its creative aesthetics and energy efficiency.

School board chairwoman Kate Snyder, Portland Public Schools Superintendent James Morse, Mayor Nicholas Mavodones and Cheryl Leeman, District 4 city councilor and co-chairwoman of the new school’s building committee, delivered celebratory comments before a traditional ribbon-cutting in front of the main entrance.

Morse described the wavy, towering plantlike structures on the pathway leading toward the school’s front doors as creating a “Dr. Seuss-like” atmosphere that’s not just functional but fun.

The Ocean Avenue school was home to what Principal Beverly Coursey called a “soft opening” when the 315 students who formerly attended the deteriorating Nathan Clifford Elementary School moved into the new 70,000-square-foot kindergarten-through-fifth-grade facility after February vacation last year.

When classes begin on Sept. 6 this year, that student population will swell to around 440 as the rest of the students in the immediate Back Cove neighborhood, who had been split up among Riverton, Presumpscot and Longfellow elementary schools, coalesce at 150 Ocean Ave.

Coursey comes to the new school from Nathan Clifford, which she said lacked a proper cafeteria and gymnasium, only had bathrooms in the basement and held just nine working computers in the entire four-story structure.

“Our old building was more than 100 years old, and it wasn’t built for how we do school today,” she told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday. “Coming over here, it’s like a temple for learning.”

The new school was built as part of the state’s school construction program. It was originally estimated to cost $20 million, but came in under budget at just more than $14.1 million, thanks in large part to the efforts of contractor Ledgewood Construction and designer WBRC Architects, those in attendance said Thursday.

The school qualifies for LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for its energy-efficient features.

Among them are:

• Nearly 12,000 square feet of vegetated roofing, where special plants and soil atop the structure absorb stormwater and provide additional insulation.

• Driveway and parking lot pavement with recycled asphalt.

• Custom-built light shelves and strategically placed windows to reduce the need for electrical lights during daylight hours.

• Low-flow plumbing technology that reduces water use in the building by about 45 percent.

• A solar hot-water collector, consisting of 20 thermal panels spanning the length of the gymnasium.

• Lockers made from 100 percent recycled plastic.

• The use of a dedicated construction waste management program with more than 86 percent of the construction waste recycled and diverted from landfills, according to literature handed out Thursday by Portland Public Schools.

“I think it’s really bold for Portland to want its schools as light on the environment as they can be,” said Jennifer Lamb, whose son will be a kindergartner at the Ocean Avenue Elementary School next week.

Lamb, like the ceremonial speakers who addressed the nearly 200 attendees before the ribbon-cutting, touted the layout and design of the building.

“It seems like an incredible learning space to me,” she said. “It’s magnetic. It draws you in and makes you want to stay. I can’t think of anything better to entice kids to learn.”

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.