Tuesday, December 10, 2013
PORTLAND — Hall Elementary School students will remain at Cathedral School for the rest of this week -- and maybe longer -- as crews continue gutting and cleaning portions of the Hall school to eliminate elevated levels of mold from the walls of a hallway and two classrooms.
Principal Cynthia Remick directs Hall Elementary students as they leave classes Monday at the former Cathedral School on Locust Street. Cathedral has been closed since the spring.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Volunteers, restoration workers and school personnel cleanup one many classrooms damaged from the early-morning fire at Hall Elementary School in this Sept. 17 file photo. Most of the damage came from water damage from firefighters putting out the fire.
2012 File Photo/Gordon Chibroski
Officials say they are waiting to see the progress of the cleanup and the results of environmental tests that are being done daily by a contractor. Officials plan to meet with parents later this week, at a time and place to be announced Tuesday.
A Sept. 17 electrical fire triggered the school's sprinkler system, which doused parts of the school with more than 7,000 gallons of water. Since Sept. 25, Hall's 437 students have had classes at Cathedral School, a former Catholic school that has been closed since the spring.
School officials thought previously that they could allow students back into the school while workers cleaned the damaged rooms. They have since concluded that it's better to gut and clean the rooms while the whole school is empty, and allow students to return only when the work is finished, said Peter Eglinton, chief operating officer for the school system.
"We don't want to get in there prematurely and then have to go back in at another time," Eglinton said. He said environmental tests have shown elevated levels of mold in dry wall, which must be removed.
Eglinton said the damage occurred in two classrooms -- Room 18 and Room 20 -- an office, Room 22C and a hallway.
Once the rooms are cleared of mold, he said, the rooms will have to be rebuilt. During the rebuilding, students from the two classrooms will use other rooms in the school. Eglinton said there is space in the school to accommodate them.
The school district is renting the Cathedral School and a nearby gymnasium for $500 a day. The Hall school has 24 classrooms, while Cathedral has only 14. The rooms at Cathedral are large enough to fit two classes.
Teachers are adjusting the best they can to meet the needs of the students, said Lloyd Apinall, a physical education teacher at the school. "You do what you have to do," he said.
Principal Cynthia Remick declined to comment.
Pedro Nieves, president of the Hall Parent Teacher Organization, said teachers are helping students adjust to their temporary quarters by making the experience an adventure. In fact, some teachers have taken their students on field trips to explore the part of the city around Cathedral School.
Most parents are being patient about the situation, Nieves said. They want school officials to make a careful decision that protects the children's health, rather than rush students back to the Hall school, he said.
Transportation is an issue at Cathedral. School officials are discouraging parents from driving children to the school between Cumberland Avenue and Congress Street because of the limited space for dropping off children.
Half of Hall's students usually walk to school, but they are now being bused to Cathedral, so the district has doubled the number of buses serving the school from three to six.
Because there is so little space for buses at the school on Locust Street, students are dismissed one bus at a time, rather all at once.
On Monday, the last bus left at 3:52 p.m. -- 32 minutes after the end of classes. Teachers carrying signs with bus numbers guided children to their buses.
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Bill Colby, left, top, of Colby Contractors in South Portland, receives a wood board from Aaron Gallagher, right, as the two work to seal the damaged roof of the Hall Elementary School before a storm arrives in this Tuesday, September 18, 2012 file photo. The school was damaged in an early-morning fire.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer