Caribou Community School opens

CARIBOU, Maine — Class is in session at the Caribou Community School, a $54 million facility that overcame a myriad of unprecedented obstacles to reach this point.

In the new building, all students will have laptops and each classroom features 72-inch Smart-TVs equipped with touch technology, allowing students to wirelessly broadcast projects on their computers to the big screen — a far cry from the chalkboards in the three buildings this PreK-8 facility is replacing: Hilltop Elementary School, Teague Park Elementary School and Caribou Middle School. 

Nearly every detail, even down to chairs specifically designed for multiple sitting positions to combat restlessness, was considered as administrators and architects planned out the project. 

The path to the first classroom day on Nov. 9 was far from easy. Shortly after the site selection process deemed Teague Park, which is national park property, to be the ideal location, a swap of the land needed to occur via the National Park Service. This process set the project back several months, but ultimately resulted in the city obtaining a new park across the street, a dog park where the former Sincock Administrate Building on Main Street once stood and a senior housing facility where Hilltop Elementary School was located.

After the land swap agreement was approved, with the help of United States Sen. Susan Collins’ office, RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) administrators were shocked when the project received only one bid, and it was $12 million dollars over budget. 

Thankfully the school was able to work with the Maine DOE, which offered an additional $5 million to the budget as he and other project officials worked to quickly cut the remaining $7 million. In order to accept the additional $5 million, RSU 39 voters needed to approve the money via special referendum, which was overwhelmingly accepted. 

Construction was then underway, but as the project neared the finish line, a global pandemic hit, delaying shipping and affecting on-site staff numbers. And while the project encountered delays, the Caribou Code Enforcement Office issued a certificate of occupancy in late October, leading to the building itself opening to staff on Nov. 3 and classes beginning on Nov. 9.

The Nov. 3 opening began with a special appearance from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who was touring The County for Election Day. Collins, a Caribou native, said her office was happy to help facilitate the National Park Service land swap, shared stories of how the school inspired her love of reading, and raised an American flag from the U.S. capital to mark the occasion. 

And on Nov. 9, students rushed to experience the new state-of-the-art facility firsthand. 

“It’s been long awaited,” RSU 39 Superintendent Tim Doak said. “We are really impressed with our online learning program, but having face to face instruction is important, and we’re all excited to be there. It was a real moment for us when the teachers got to be there on Tuesday, but when the students show up on Monday, it’s going to be really special.”

In order to comply with social distancing requirements, students at the Caribou Community School use are grouped by their grade level. The students are pictured here arriving at the new facility on the first day of in-person instruction on Nov. 9. (Chris Bouchard | Aroostook Republican & News)

RSU 39 Assistant Superintendent Jane McCall and School Resource Officer Kevin St. Peter help students along on the first day of in-person classes at the Caribou Community School. (Chris Bouchard | Aroostook Republican & News)

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