Thursday, December 12, 2013
PORTLAND — Parents of students at Hall Elementary School scrambled to find child care after school officials announced Monday that the school will be closed all week because of an electrical fire that caused extensive water damage.
Volunteers, restoration workers and school personnel clean up one of the classrooms damaged by the fire at Hall School on Monday. Firefighters have determined that the fire originated in wiring to an exterior light.
Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
Brandon Cronin, 8, holds his nose after getting a whiff of his third-grade classroom at Hall School on Monday. He and his father, Wayne Cronin, were checking out the scene in the aftermath of a 1:30 a.m. fire that caused minor fire damage and more extensive water damage at the school.
Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
The 56-year-old school, which the city plans to replace in 2014 in part because of "obsolete building systems," has 430 students from kindergarten through fifth grade.
At 1:30 a.m. Monday, a wire to an exterior light sparked the fire between a ceiling and the school's roof, said Deputy Fire Chief Robert Wassick. Sprinklers quickly doused the flames, which were almost gone when firefighters arrived.
Most of the damage was caused by the thousands of gallons of water the sprinkler system dumped in a couple of adjacent classrooms, flooding hallways and nearby rooms.
Wassick said the wooden building's sprinklers are above the drop ceiling, which is unusual but helped douse the fire in the ceiling quickly.
Classes were canceled Monday, and school officials decided to keep students out for the rest of this week largely because the strong smell of smoke throughout the building could be irritating to the students and staff, said Peter Eglinton, chief operating officer for the school department.
Also, crews are working to dry out the carpets and drywall in affected classrooms, and that could take days, he said.
"We are exploring options for providing a learning space for all students on Wednesday," Eglinton said.
"We will be ensuring we let parents and staff know swiftly of changes," he said, and if the wet areas can be dried out, the smell can be removed and the roof can be fixed, then students may return next week. The building is insured.
Even with enough cleanup to reopen the school, students may have to be moved out of two to four classrooms that were more extensively damaged.
Hall students who are in the city recreation department's before- and after-school programs can attend full-day care at Riverton Elementary School this week.
Hall Elementary School was built in 1956 as a temporary school for children of military personnel who lived in nearby Sagamore Village. The 56,000-square-foot building, a couple of blocks from Brighton Avenue, got an addition in 1967.
The city's capital improvements program calls for replacing Hall in 2014 with a new school, to be completed on the site in 2015.
The city is now spending $400,000 on planning and engineering for that project, which is expected to cost a total of $26 million.
Eglinton said the prospect of investing money in repairs for a building that's slated for replacement in two years is frustrating.
A city document that calls for the replacement of the Hall school lists deficiencies in the aging structure.
It says the school has a good learning environment with high standards and expectations, but "the dilapidated condition of the facility, obsolete building systems and deteriorating site features" helped make it No. 12 on a state list of schools most in need of major building improvements.
It also says "the electric service and distribution systems are in poor condition." City officials said the wiring that started the fire could date to the building's original construction.
Brandi Sangillo, who lives almost next door to the school, was woken before dawn Monday by the sound of firefighters using a power saw to cut into its roof.
"The whole house was lit up red and I could smell smoke in my daughter's room," she said.
Sangillo, who doesn't work during the day, was watching the two daughters of another parent who had to work Monday, in addition to her own daughter.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: