A more than $5 million renovation project at Brewer High School that has taken two years is predicted to be completed before the end of the year.
The most extensive and expensive upgrade the building received was the addition of a new HVAC system, which provides heating, cooling and air filtration for the building. Other additions include a generator, tutoring offices in the school’s library and cosmetic upgrades to classrooms.
Brewer Superintendent Gregg Palmer said the department has wanted to replace the HVAC and air filtration systems for years, but never found the time or funding to do so.
When the COVID-19 pandemic brought federal and state relief money, including some $2.7 million from the American Rescue Plan, the school department jumped at the chance to use some of it on new HVAC and air quality systems, among other upgrades, Palmer said.
“We feel a lot better about having kids in there learning each day,” Palmer said. “It just feels like it’s a better atmosphere for students. We’re proud of it.”
The school also bought a new generator that will turn on when the building loses power, and offices in the school’s library that will be used for tutoring were also built. Crews also removed old lockers in some hallways and replaced them with closets teachers can use for storage.
Palmer said students seem most pleased with the appearance of the spruced-up classrooms. Even smaller upgrades like new, bigger windows, new furniture, and fresh flooring and paint breathe new life into the classrooms and make them a more enjoyable place for students to spend their day.
“They look like new classrooms and the hallways are brighter,” Palmer said. “This is a very old building that now feels like a new building. It is a brand new building in a lot of ways.”
The first portion of U-shaped Brewer High School was built in the late 1950s, then the second wing was added shortly after as the U.S. saw a population boom and more space was needed, said Palmer.
While the extensive work, completed by Bangor-based Nichols Construction, is nearly finished, small pieces of work that still need to be completed are scattered around the school, Palmer said. Those projects include adding siding to the outside of the building, installing new faucets in science labs and installing a stove and ventilation hood in a special education classroom.
“If you walk through the building today, you’d think it’s all done,” Palmer said. “By the time we get to Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, the project will be done.”
Most of the work took place over the past two summers, but the school was still able to open to students on time and ongoing work doesn’t interrupt the school day, according to Palmer.
Though so many pieces of the school have been worked on, Palmer said upgrading the existing building was far less expensive than constructing an entirely new building.
“To construct a new high school building can cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” Palmer said. “The school has good bones and was built well, but it was old and run down. Schools are heavily used facilities and always need upkeep. Now, it’ll be good for another 100 years.”