Westbrook High School students will start the first three to four months of the school year remotely because of the lengthy repairs needed to address damage from a July 25 fire.

Superintendent Peter Lancia, who made the announcement last week, two weeks before the Sept. 1-2 start dates for the high school, said the building requires too much electrical work to host classes. The fire was contained to a third floor art classroom, but he said some other parts of the building are without power due to water damage and that some exits and stairwells could be blocked because of the work.

There is not yet a definite timeline and price tag for the repairs, but Lancia estimates the repairs may take three to four months to complete. The school also is working on safety code violations found after the fire in July.

westbrook school

Lancia

The fire caused superficial damage to rugs and ceilings, but water damage from the sprinkler system caused major damage to electric systems in that wing of the building.

The school department was unsuccessful in its efforts to find class space for the high school students, Lancia said.

“One of the things that we really tried hard to maintain was in-person learning. That was a huge priority to us, and to be honest we are heartbroken we can’t provide that,” Lancia told the school board last week. 

According to Lancia, school officials “looked at a number of spaces, but there were none that could contain the whole school.”

The high school’s special education programs will still take place in-person, however, at the Westbrook Community Center.

We are also looking at possibly using the center for a site for extra help with teachers, as well as student services,” Lancia said. 

High school Co-Principal Jeff Guerette said in-person classes were “impossible given the situation,” but we are trying to put something together where we can see kids.”

Meanwhile, the fire and code departments are continuing their investigations into all Westbrook schools in light of the safety code violations found at the high school.

According to a Fire Department report, the fire at the high school started within an air conditioning unit improperly plugged into an extension cord. Similar fire hazards were then found elsewhere in the building. Other violations included overdue inspections of the sprinkler system.

“The other schools so far look great,” Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte said. “The good news is that the majority of deficiencies were minor and corrected in a short place of time.”

Turcotte said the Fire Department will be conducting quarterly walk-throughs and reviews at each school to help educate teachers, admins and parents about what is and isn’t allowed.”

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