Geoff Wagg, head of school at Waynflete School, said some older students asked him earlier this week when they could get a tour of the school’s new addition, which houses the lower school.
“Walk over and take a look,” he told them. Delighted, the students did just that.
The Portland private school’s 28,000-square-foot addition and the renovated 140-year-old building it is part of houses the school’s preschool through fifth grade, but in reality, the new space is for everyone at the 550-student private school, which has grades through 12.
“There are lessons for all ages,” Wagg said Monday.
Some finishing touches still have to be put on the new addition at Waynflete School, but the $10 million Passive House construction project is already getting high marks from those at the school, as well as the neighborhood.
The addition is the largest PH-certified academic building in Maine, surpassing the the Friends School of Portland in Cumberland, which is 15,500 square feet.
Of the seven completed commercial Passive House projects in the state, five are school buildings. Bowdoin College will make that six when it completes four planned dormitories.
The other two are large multi-unit residential buildings — the 48-unit Village Centre in Brewer, completed in 2016, and the 45-unit Bayside Anchor in Portland, completed last year.
Passive House construction requires thick insulation, airtight construction, thick and well-placed windows, moisture migration prevention and a steady supply of fresh air.
While the construction is more expensive than standard construction — the Waynflete project costs $350,000 more than a LEED-certified addition would have — it will surpass that extra money in energy efficiency within 10 years, Wagg said.
The school also renovated 14,344-square-foot Founders Hall, which was built in 1878 and was originally a horse barn. If certified, it would be LEED Gold. rather than PH, Wagg said.
“It’s really complicated to turn a 140-year-old building Passive House,” Wagg said Tuesday. He said the building’s can’t be made airtight and “you can’t seal the building.”
“It’s less of an issue when you’re starting from scratch,” he said.
Planning began five years ago for the addition and renovation, which included tearing down the old lower school building.
Wagg said Passive House construction was settled on almost immediately, and it wasn’t a hard sell.
“We were eager to do it,” Wagg said. The school went with architect Scott Simons Architects, of Portland, who does a great job of “blending old and new.”
“They are really artists,” he said.
Wright-Ryan of Portland, the construction manager, was also the builder on the Village Centre and Bayside Anchor projects.
He said the collaboration with all those involved, including the city, made it a smooth process.
The historic West End neighborhood, which is notable for large Victorian homes, was also on board, said Anne Pringle, president of the Western Promenade Neighborhood Association.
Pringle, who visited Wagg Monday for a tour of the new edition, said people were curious about Passive House construction, but there wasn’t concern about the impact on the neighborhood.
“And one of the great things for us, is they engaged the neighborhood as well,” she said. “It was very collaborative as far as the residents were concerned.”
The school was founded in 1898, and was originally on Danforth Street. It's now on Spring Street, occupying six buildings bordered by Spring and Danforth streets.
Three 19th century Victorians lining Spring Street are the face of the school.
The new addition, which is behind the renovated Founders Hall and at the back of the campus, is on a rise above Danforth Street, with a grassy expanse, fencing and a row of shrubbery softening the impact.
The new building is “very modern,” said Rand Ardell, Waynflete’s director of marketing and communications. “But it complements the older, traditional buildings.”
Light spills into the building from the strategically placed windows — another Passive House feature.
Founders is now brighter, more modern and efficient as well. The ground-floor preschool in the older section spills out into a courtyard that’s covered with cedar chips, but will soon be a new playground with shrubbery and modern amenities. Among those amenities will be a “loose parts” area, which is just what it sounds like — a variety of elements for young children to play with designed to spark imagination.
The school’s next project will be the 1970s-era gym, Ardell said, though that will have to wait.
“We need some breathing room” after the just-completed renovation.
The renovation and new addition make classrooms more efficient, energetic places to learn. The large room that houses one group has “tree houses” against the walls that mirror the architecture of the addition.
Double-tiered benches are on rollers, providing group space. Ardell said students love standing in the corner windows, which look out over the harbor.
The innovation center, arts area and other aspects of the new addition are also open to the upper school students.
Ardell, as he conducts a tour of the new building, said, “This is a huge change for us.”
Benefits of the new lower school include its own library. Before, the lower school students had to cross campus to use the one library, which they shared with the upper school.
Besides the efficiency, the new library also meant space was freed up in the old one.
Wagg said a major benefit of the project is the opportunity for students to learn on a variety of levels — science, math, environmental.
He said that the cultural aspects are important, too.
“What does it feel like to be in a building like this? It’s a question for 3-year-olds as well as 19-year-olds,” Wagg said.
The older buildings on the campus have been upgraded as much as possible for energy efficiency, including converting to natural gas, replacing windows, and more, Wagg said.
He loves the historic buildings, “the shape and feel of them.”
But he also loves the direction the school has gone with its new addition.
The Passive House addition is estimated to be 80% more energy efficient than a code compliant standard building he said.
“Passive House just makes sense in Maine,” he added. “It can be cold here.”
But just as important as the energy efficiency of the new addition, he said, is “the learning opportunity that comes with it.”