SOUTH PORTLAND — Memorial Middle School students will get an early start to the holiday break when the building is closed again Friday because of persistent heating oil odors related to a boiler breakdown.

The students missed classes Monday and Wednesday because of the boiler problem. The school was closed Thursday as well, but sixth-graders attended a half-day of classes in a wing set aside for them at South Portland High School, while seventh- and eighth-graders attended a scheduled performance of “A Christmas Carol” at Portland Stage.

Superintendent Ken Kunin sent an email to the school community Thursday evening explaining that the odor problem continues and the high school cannot accommodate all of the middle school’s 375 students.

“While we have confidence that we will have heat tomorrow, we are less confident that we will not have lingering odors from the incident in the boiler room earlier in the week,” Kunin wrote. “While some areas do not appear to have any remaining odor, others still do.”

Air quality tests by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection “indicate that the building is safe to occupy, but the odor in the areas it is occurring is uncomfortable and can be an irritant for some people,” Kunin wrote.

Memorial is one of two aging middle schools in the city that would be replaced by a proposed $50 million consolidated middle school planned for the Memorial site at 120 Wescott Road. The project would be funded by the Maine Department of Education.

Classes were canceled just before school started Monday morning after a custodian arrived early at Memorial and noticed the building was cold, then discovered the boiler room was flooded knee deep in water and the school’s two boilers had shut down.

The boilers were back online by noon Monday, Kunin said, and students were invited to return Tuesday. However, the boilers failed again Tuesday morning and the faint smell of heating oil in other areas of the school made some students and staff members feel nauseated, he said.

While DEP tests indicated that public health was never in jeopardy, Kunin said he decided to keep the school closed Wednesday through Friday to limit any exposure to unpleasant or potentially harmful odors.

Kunin noted in Thursday’s email that facilities staff members had done “considerable work” to address flooding, heating and ventilation issues in the boiler room and throughout the school. Although the total cost of cleanup and repairs is not yet known, each boiler needs a new burner at a cost of $15,000 apiece, Kunin said.

“(We) fully anticipate that the December break – 11 days without students in the building – will allow us to resume normal operations on Jan. 2,” Kunin wrote.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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