Monday, December 9, 2013
PORTLAND — Students will return to Hall Elementary School on Tuesday for the first time since an electrical fire on Sept. 17 triggered the school's sprinkler system.
Bill Colby of Colby Contractors of South Portland works to seal the damaged roof of the Hall Elementary School on Tuesday, September 18, 2012, after a fire damaged the school early Monday morning.
Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
Three rooms and a hallway were soaked with 7,000 gallons of water, which caused elevated levels of mold in the walls.
School officials said Thursday that air tests show the school is now safe.
While all of Hall's 437 students will return to the school, many will be in different classrooms. Two classrooms that sustained heavy water damage will remain closed for the rest of the calendar year.
Those rooms will be rebuilt, with work done after school hours so students won't be disturbed by the noise.
Six other classrooms will be closed all of next week because they are near a hallway that has drywall with elevated levels of mold.
The drywall will be removed next week. That section of the school will be sealed off from the rest of the school while the work is done.
The school's computer lab, art room and library will be used as temporary classrooms.
School officials will open the school at 6 p.m. Monday for parents who want to tour it. Parents should meet in the hallway to the gym.
On Friday, school officials plan to release the results of air tests done this week by a consultant, Environmental Safety & Hygiene Associates.
Mark Coleman, the company's president, said workers are removing floor tiles that contain asbestos in the two damaged classrooms. He said the rooms will be sealed, and negative air pressure in the rooms will keep airborne particles from entering other parts of the school.
Since Sept. 25, the Hall school's students have been attending classes at Cathedral School, a former Catholic school between Cumberland Avenue and Congress Street.
The Cathedral school has 10 fewer classrooms than the Hall school, so teachers have been combining classes.
School officials informed parents about the plan to return to the Hall school during a meeting Thursday night in Deering High School's auditorium.
Some parents said they worry that administrators are rushing to move students back in, while other parents and teachers said they are pleased to go back to Hall as along as they can be assured that it is safe.
"We want to go home more than anything," said Cindi Taylor, who teachers immigrant children English and serves as one of the school's union representatives. "I want to make sure that the air is all safe."
Magda Darling, the mother of a fifth-grader, said the school district did a poor job communicating to parents and formulating a plan for the students, so it was difficult for parents to schedule child care. Students missed six days of school.
She said it appears that the district had no contingency plan for such an incident.
"When you are dealing with child care, spontaneity is not a good thing," she said. "It has to be planned. I feel like we've been jerked around."
More than 50 parents attended the meeting, and many applauded when Darling finished speaking.
The Hall Elementary School was built 56 years ago as a temporary school during the baby boom. It still has its original wiring.
The fire occurred before dawn on Sept. 17. Some parents said Thursday that they fear that another electrical fire could occur and endanger their children.
"I don't feel my kids are safe," said Carol Hill, who has two children in the school.
Peter Eglinton, chief operating officer for the school system, said the school has been inspected and cleared by the Fire Department.
City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who represents District 3, where the Hall school is, said replacing the school is a top priority.
Although it's too late to hold a referendum on Election Day to approve a bond to build a new school, he said, a vote could be held in the spring.
"We have to move as fast as possible," he said.
He said people who are interested in the issue should attend the annual District 3 meeting at 6 p.m. on Nov. 13 at the Hall school.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:
Correction: This story was revised at 11:35 a.m., Oct. 5, 2012, to state that two Hall Elementary School classrooms that sustained heavy water damage will remain closed for the rest of the calendar year.