Eastern White Pine Fortifies Maine School

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The Friends School of Portland was searching for a new piece of land to support their expansion. On the wish list: generous space for outdoor education and ways to integrate the beauty of the natural environment into highly environmentally sustainable classrooms. After researching decommissioned schools and rural properties, they settled on 21 acres in Cumberland, Maine.  

With a proposed footprint of three acres for the school buildings and site work on the densely wooded lot, combined with the idea of keeping the school close to the road with 18 acres behind for play and learning, a consultation with builder Peter Warren of Warren Construction Group in Freeport, Maine, confirmed that some trees would need to come down to make way for the structures. Head of School Jenny Rowe consulted with an arborist and turned the discussion to how the wood could be incorporated into the building, and a plan began to take effect. 

The Friends School of Portland, front view
The Friends School of Portland, front view

The Beauty of Eastern White Pine

“The land was filled with beautiful old White Pines, and we wanted to learn more about the trees and determine how they could become part of the school … we wanted to recognize them for what they once were,” said Rowe. 

It became clear that quite a bit of the wood from the trees could be integrated into the new structures. But before that happened, Friends School families were invited to visit the property to walk through the woods and get to know the beauty of the land where their new school would be built. 

Interior Pine Applications

Richard Lo with Kaplan Thompson Architects in Portland, Maine, joined the team as project manager for the school’s design and construction with the challenge of integrating the Eastern White Pine from the property into the inside of the school buildings. 

Not sure of how much wood could be milled for interior use, Lo created a series of plans to emphasize the warmth of the White Pine throughout the school. “We went into the project with spaces marked for wood, depending on how much was available; we were very lucky to be able to use the beautiful, natural, local wood everywhere we wanted.” 

Starting with the ceiling of the entry porch, Eastern White Pine is prevalent throughout the school: from wood wainscot panels that provide a robust wall environment throughout the lobby area to the main assembly room which includes one breathtaking feature. 

All the Eastern White Pine used in the school was milled from the site trees: boards are 1” thick nominal (actual thickness is ¾” thick) with a simple square profile. Builder Warren played an important role as he brought practical lumber know-how to the table to include sequencing, and the parameters of milling the wood. Clear coatings were chosen to let the grains and knots show through, with whitewashed and pickled options interspersed to brighten up interior sections. A few areas used two finishes in contrast, creating a customized natural look. 

Look Inside

Step onto the porch and look up: 6” boards with a clear seal finish line the ceiling, supported by the stunning, over scaled red oak trunks as posts. Once inside, the lobby and corridors continue the natural echo of what once stood on the land. Stairs connect two levels of the school – but look closer: built-in seating under a sloped soffit creates alcoves under the stairs that twinkle with hidden lights and are used as breakout meeting spaces, a reading nook, or even small presentation options for the students. Constructed of 10”, 8”, and 6” wide boards coated with clear polyurethane, the area is warm and welcoming. 

Wainscot built from 10”, 8”, and 6” inch horizontal boards offers a cool pickled look, created using a white-washed semi-transparent stain finish. 

The Friends School of Portland, side view.
The Friends School of Portland, side view.

Eastern White Pine on the Ceiling

The most breathtaking paean to nature: the meeting room. Used for a variety of purposes – as a gym, for assemblies, concerts, and the school’s weekly Quaker meeting – the room is beautiful, simple, and showcases the power of nature more than any other space in the school. 

At the heart of the room, nestled in the vaulted ceiling, are pieces of Eastern White Pine measuring 18” wide and 22’ long, representing the longest and widest piece of wood from the trees that would successfully pass through the mill. 

Finishing off the room are 10”, 8”, and 6” wide horizontal wainscot boards with a clear polyurethane finish.

The Friends School of Portland, gym.
The Friends School of Portland, gym.

The Beauty of Real Wood 

“During Meetings, the big windows allow the students to look out into the woods; right in the center of one of the windows is a huge, gorgeous Eastern White Pine. The children can see the trees, and we teach them where our wood comes from and how it’s part of their everyday life. It’s a beautiful way to reinforce how nature (and Eastern White Pine) can transform our world.” 

(This article provided by the Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association. Learn more at www.nelma.org)

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

The premier online information source for the forest products industry since 1927.

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