The Friends School of Portland, an independent K-8 school centered on long-held Quaker-based standards and beliefs, was founded on the principles of peace, inquiry, simplicity, and stewardship. When the Friends School made the move from its vibrant location on Mackworth Island to a wooded 25-acre lot in Cumberland Foreside, Maine, they knew it would be a challenge to maintain a strong connection to the outdoors, especially for a school where the outdoor experience is a key part of the everyday learning program.
A successful project required strong integration with the natural landscape through multiple, direct connections to outdoor spaces, and the use of natural and indigenous materials. The school also wanted to eliminate its use of fossil fuels.
The new school features airy classrooms filled with natural light, large windows overlooking walking trails, and play areas. Most of the interior wood was harvested directly from the site, some in lengths of up to 26 feet long. This white pine runs throughout the school, including the undulating ceiling of the Big Room, which lifts the eyes and the spirit toward the sun as it streams through the trees along the creek to the south. A 12-foot-wide door folds away, opening onto an outdoor amphitheater for performances, and a bridge connects the upper level to a playfield to the east.
The Friends School is the first Passive House-certified school in Maine (only the third built in the entire country). The new school has the goal of generating 100% of its own energy on-site through photovoltaic panels (144 to be precise), reducing future operation costs dramatically and decreasing the school’s dependence on fundraising or drawing on its endowment. The foundation, walls, and ceiling are all thickly insulated and the windows are triple-glazed (R-6 windows, R-40 walls, R-80-110 roof, and R-40 slab). There is a fresh-air ventilation system with heat recovery so even with the air-tight construction, clean air is consistently moving through the building. The construction methods used in this building are so calculated for efficiency that it was necessary to consider the body heat generated by the school’s 150 occupants in the final design!