PORTLAND — Students who attend Hall Elementary School will stay out of class for the rest of this week but could return next week, once most of the damage caused by a fire is cleaned up, school officials said Tuesday.

That decision left hundreds of parents to make child care arrangements. The school has 430 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“Having a child displaced suddenly with no care, it’s extremely disruptive to your life,” said Denielle Christensen, who works full time, as does her husband.

After the fire caused extensive water damage to the school around 1:30 a.m. Monday, Christensen spent part of the day sitting in her car, working on her iPad, while watching her third-grader, Aiden, and a friend of his at the city’s skatepark. In exchange, the friend’s parent watched her son on Tuesday.

Peter Eglinton, chief operating officer for the school department, said the decision to cancel classes for the week is actually a sign that the cleanup is going well.

School officials considered finding alternative space for the students, including leasing the former Cathedral School in the city’s East End. But they decided that moving classes for just a couple of days would be more disruptive than beneficial.

“With all the logistics involved in carrying it off, for a two-day period … (it) meant that the time could be better spent allowing teachers to prepare for returning to the school,” Eglinton said.

“If for some reason we aren’t able to open on Monday, we are continuing to look at other options,” he said. “But we’re optimistic.”

The school’s students have been in classes for only five days this year, Eglinton said. They will not have to make up the lost time because Portland has five more days than the state requires in its academic calendar.

The electrical fire started between the roof and the ceiling of the 56-year-old school and probably smoldered for some time, building up enough heat in that small space to set off six sprinkler heads, said Fire Chief Stephen Smith. The building has sprinkler heads near the roof and protruding from the drop ceiling, so the fire was put out quickly.

The damage came mostly from the thousands of gallons of water that soaked several classrooms and hallways.

Workers scrambled Tuesday to repair the hole in the roof before rain arrived in the afternoon. They also made progress drying out carpets and walls, Eglinton said.

The city plans to replace the Hall Elementary School in 2014.

The damage was concentrated in the classroom where the fire burned and two adjacent rooms, Eglinton said. Another room sustained moderate damage. Those rooms won’t be ready when the school reopens, so some students will have to join other classes.

The damaged rooms contained posters, books and other teaching aids that teachers had collected over the years, as well as workbooks and small libraries of reading material that students used each day.

Eglinton said the district will try to identify the teachers’ needs and provide an opportunity for the community to help replace some materials.

“They’ve had materials that have been collected, not only in their tenure at the school, but in some classes (the) prior teachers who have been in those rooms. That can be very emotional, and it’s hard to replace fully,” he said.

Priya Natarajan, whose son Deven is in third grade at the Hall School, said, “As a teacher myself, I feel for that teacher having lost all those years of material and student work and wonderful things she’s collected throughout her career.

“Our child was in one of the classrooms that was completely destroyed,” and it is an emotional experience for him, she said.

“For the kids, it’s so hard to be taken out of their normal routine,” she said. “They already feel sad anyway, because a fire is traumatic.”

Natarajan’s son is enrolled in the Portland Recreation Department’s after-school program, like 84 other Hall students, and the department has offered all-day care for those students. She said that has made the ordeal much easier.

Christensen said her son has two grandparents, each of whom can watch him one day this week.

She may have to work at home on Thursday, and that’s not easy.

“There is only so much work you can get done from home when you have a child there,” she said.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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