Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Randy Billings email@example.com
PORTLAND - Teachers and students returned to Hall Elementary School on Tuesday, three weeks after a predawn fire displaced them.
Amanda McGuire helps her son Kody, 6, a first-grader, zip his coat after his first day back at Hall Elementary School in Portland on Tuesday. A fire on Sept. 17 closed the school for three weeks.
Photos by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer
Areas of Hall Elementary School are off-limits Tuesday. Most of the damage was caused by 7,000 gallons of water that the sprinkler system released to douse the fire Sept. 17.
Jill Brady/Staff Photographer
"It feels great to be back home," said Principal Cynthia Remick. "But it feels like our third first day of school."
The school year started on Sept. 6, then the electrical fire on Sept. 17 kept Hall's 437 students out of classes for a week.
On Sept. 25, the students began attending classes at Cathedral School, which Remick said felt like another first day of school.
On Tuesday, teachers were busy helping students adjust and re-acclimate to their own school.
"We're taking it in stride," Remick said. "It's a group effort and everyone is chipping in."
Most of the damage in the school was caused by 7,000 gallons of water that the sprinkler system released to douse the electrical fire. The water caused elevated levels of mold, which prompted concerns about air quality.
An environmental consulting firm hired by the district, Environmental Safety & Hygiene Associates, did air testing on Oct. 1 and found the air was safe for students to return.
Eight classrooms in the wing where the fire started remain closed. Their students and teachers are using specialized rooms -- such as an art room, a Spanish language class and the library -- as classrooms.
Six classrooms are expected to reopen on Monday. Two other classrooms and an office will be rebuilt by the end of this year.
"I'm told the real noisy stuff will happen on nights and weekends," Remick said.
Third-grade teacher Renee Orcutt spent her first back at Hall adjusting to her temporary classroom -- the school library. She expects to be able to return to her room next week.
Orcutt said water damage to that classroom cost her personal items, including 12 years' worth of teaching memories.
She is eager to get back in so she can once again incorporate her piano into lessons and have other amenities that make the room feel like home.
"I just like to make it feel like a real comfortable area," she said.
Dozens of parents stood in a light rain on the playground of Hall Elementary School shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday, eagerly waiting for their kids to get out of school.
For most, it was a return to normalcy.
Sarah Johnson waited for her 6-year-old daughter Ava, who is in first grade. She said the return to Hall means her daughter can walk to school, rather than carpool.
It also will help teachers establish a routine for their students.
"For younger children, routines are important," Johnson said.
Chris Wotton picked up his 7-year-old son Josh and his uncle's child, 8-year-old Devin. The students now get out of school shortly after 3 p.m. When they went to Cathedral, on Portland's peninsula, they got home closer to 4 p.m.
Wotton said he hopes the district will continue moving forward with plans to replace Hall school, which was built in 1956 as a temporary school for children of military personnel who lived in nearby Sagamore Village. The district is spending $400,000 to draft plans for a new school, and expects to ask voters to approve a bond in 2013 to pay for it.
"Hopefully, they will fix up the school and rebuild it," Wotton said.
Students generally were happy to be back Tuesday -- mostly because Cathedral didn't have a playground.
"I like to play hide and seek," said Devin Wotton, 8. "Here, you can hide in the slide."
Kody McGuire, 6, usually walks to school with his mother, Amanda. He enjoyed taking the school bus for the first time to get to Cathedral, but it was no substitute for the playground at Hall.
"It's better to have a playground out here," he said.
Remick said teachers and students made the best of their time at Cathedral, where they had to double up classes in rooms with wood floors and high ceilings.
And the restrooms at Cathedral are in the basement.
"No more stairs!" said 8-year-old Bella Puleo when asked why she was happy to be back at Hall.
Teachers took advantage of their time downtown by taking students on walking tours of the waterfront, the library and the farmers market, Remick said.
But when time came on Friday to begin moving materials back to Hall, Remick said, everyone was eager to help, both teachers and parents.
"It's brought our staff together and it's brought our community together in unforeseen ways," she said.
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:
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Patty Puleo and her daughter Bella, 8, a third-grader, discuss the return to Hall on Tuesday. “No more stairs!” said Bella, when asked why she was happy to be back at Hall.
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Renee Orcutt, a third-grade teacher, speaks Tuesday from the Hall School library, her temporary "classroom," about being displaced after the Sept. 17 fire at the Portland school.
Jill Brady/Staff Photographer