Work on the high school’s third floor is nearly finished. Ceiling tiles need to be installed along with windows, which have been on back order. Contributed / Westbrook School Department

Westbrook High School should reopen for students by the end of November, according to  Superintendent Peter Lancia.

Twenty-two students in an alternative learning program, however, will continue to meet at the Community Center for the rest of the school year due to the code violations found in their classrooms after a July fire at the high school. No one was injured in the fire.

Most high schoolers started the year remotely because of extensive water damage in the building from the fire sprinklers. The cost to repair the damages has not been determined, Lancia said, but work is on track for a late November finish.

“They are referring to this as a ‘major loss,’ which is certainly over a million in damage, but we don’t have specifics on local costs yet,” Lancia told the American Journal Monday, saying he was expecting a call that day from the insurance company. Contacted Wednesday morning, Lancia said he had not yet heard from the company.   

The top floor of the wing where the fire occurred is 90% finished, awaiting ceiling tiles and windows. The second floor is about 60% complete, with ongoing electrical work in the ceilings. The first floor still has sheetrock walls and no ceilings and needs the most work.

While work crews fix the fire damages, they are also correcting the numerous minor code violations found throughout the school.

The district hopes to bring back some students ahead of late November as certain parts of the building get completely finished, but Lancia said he’ll have a better idea on that timeline once the third floor is finished.

Fire department and code enforcement officials will have the final say on when students will be allowed back in the building.

Code violations found in the COMPASS alternative learning program classrooms, in a separate building that was not damaged in the fire, are too costly to repair, Lancia said. The administration is looking for an alternative space, but students in the Creating Opportunities through Multiple Pathways for Academic and Social Success program will be taught at the Community Center for the remainder of the year.

According to a report from the code enforcement office, the converted classrooms did not meet building code requirements for classrooms and lacked proper water supplies, though it had plumbing.

Lancia said COMPASS moved to that building about five to seven years ago and he could not recall when the structure was built.

The program’s at-risk students thrive in a contained environment that is separate from the actual school building, so it is crucial to find a separate space for them, he said, and a permanent place at the Community Center is a possibility.

Because of the high school fire, the Community Center already is hosting about 60 students from four special education programs and COMPASS program. Those classes have been going well, according to co-principal Patrick Colgan and teacher Sarah Anthony.

“A lot of our alternative education really focuses on building relationships, which we couldn’t do well remotely,” said Anthony, who works with COMPASS students.

The space at the community center – four classes, a kitchen converted to an office and an overflow room for students participating in remote classes – has made a big difference for students, she said.

A lot of the areas, she said, are bigger than what the students are used to and the nearby services at the Community Center are great resources.

“The kids seem happier. During the pandemic a lot of them struggled with schooling and I felt like they were losing hope in it, but that has come back,” Anthony said. 

The wiring in the ceilings are fastened, as opposed to the previous mess of wires and code violations found after the July fire. Contributed / Westbrook School Department


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