Tuesday, December 10, 2013
PORTLAND – Portland school officials said Monday night that they couldn't say when Hall Elementary School students might be able to return to their fire-damaged school.
Erin Humphrey, a first- and second-grade teacher at Hall Elementary School, writes a message welcoming students back to school in a classroom at Cathedral School in Portland on Monday afternoon, Sept. 24, 2012.
Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer
Michael Madison, a custodian at Presumpscot Elementary School, cleans chairs outside Cathedral School in Portland on Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. Custodians, city employees and teachers prepared the school for Hall Elementary students, who will begin classes at Cathedral on Tuesday.
Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer
For at least this week, Hall's 437 students, in grades K-5, will be bused to and from Cathedral School on Congress Street.
Classes will start at the new downtown location Tuesday. Students missed classes last week but won't be required to make the five days up at the end of the school year.
More than 300 parents, teachers and students filled Guild Hall, part of the Cathedral School campus, on Monday to hear a progress report about the fire cleanup and to tour their temporary school.
"It's not going to be the entire year, but we certainly don't expect to return to the Hall school this week," Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk told the audience, after a parent asked how long the arrangement would last.
Hall school was closed Sept. 17 after an early-morning fire broke out, causing extensive smoke and water damage to the school. The cause of the fire has been described as electrical.
More than 7,000 gallons of water from the school's sprinkler system were discharged during the fire. Three classrooms were heavily damaged and will need extensive repairs.
Most of the school has been cleaned and environmental tests have been conducted to determine whether students can safely return. Those test results are not yet available.
Portland decided to rent Cathedral School, which is currently vacant, from the Catholic Diocese until Hall school is deemed safe for students.
Chief Operating Officer Peter Eglinton said the school department is renting Cathedral for $500 a day.
There is no timetable for reopening Hall school, he said.
"We've been telling parents it could be a couple of weeks. No one will complain if it opens faster than that," he said.
Teachers have already moved their books and supplies into Cathedral's 14 classrooms. There are 24 classrooms at Hall school. Messages left on chalkboards say, "Welcome to our home away from Hall."
"While we will miss our beloved Hall school campus, the staff has embraced their new campus," Principal Cynthia Remick said.
Remick said Cathedral offers a full-sized gymnasium, a dedicated art room, space for a nurse's office and special-education classes, as well as music space.
Parking is very limited, which is why school officials are encouraging parents to put their students on buses rather than drive them to school.
"Learning will continue this week," Remick said.
Hall school is currently ranked 12th on the state's funding list for repairs or replacement.
"My issue is I have lost complete trust in that building," said Carol Hill, whose two children attend Hall school. "I'm scared to send my children into that building. It needs to be torn down. So what is the future plan?"
After the forum ended, Eglington said school officials have been discussing a plan that would ask voters -- in a November 2013 referendum -- to approve funding for a new school to replace Hall Elementary.
Eglington said the price for a new school would be roughly the same as the city spent on the new Ocean Avenue Elementary School -- about $15 million.
The city has already appropriated $700,000 to hire a consultant to design plans for a new school.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: