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Classes resume while fire recovery continues at Hall Elementary School in Portland

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Classes resume while fire recovery continues at Hall Elementary School in Portland

PORTLAND — Children raced around the repaired Hall Elementary School Monday night while parents took advantage of the opportunity to tour the building before it reopened after a fire-related shutdown.

Students and staff returned to classes at the Orono Road school Tuesday morning after spending two weeks at Cathedral School on Locust Street.

After Hall was damaged by an electrical fire on Sept. 17, a major concern for parents has been the effect of the fire and water on air quality in the building. But results of air quality tests done by Environmental Safety & Hygiene Associates show the “assessment did not identify any significant concentrations of airborne fungal spores in any of the areas tested.”

The report found that outside of the immediate impact area, the gymnasium foyer was the only area that detected "significant elevations of fungal spores" compared with outside air. The company is developing a plan for periodic testing in the building.

“Every single space in the building has had air sampling and every single one of those tests has come back absolutely safe and acceptable,” said District 3 City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who represents the neighborhoods around Hall.

Peter Eglinton, chief operations officer for Portland Public Schools, said a block of six rooms still cordoned off will be reopened to students and staff on Oct. 15. But the three rooms where the most damage occurred will be closed through the end of the calendar year.

The fire, sparked by a faulty electrical circuit servicing outdoor lighting, resulted in 7,000 gallons of water being dumped into Rooms 18, 20 and 22. The three rooms are being gutted and renovated after school hours, officials said, so students aren't disturbed by renovation noise.

While construction is completed on those rooms, students will attend classes in the art room, computer lab and library.

Superintendent of Schools Emmanuel Caulk said the process has been a learning curve for district administrators, but has allowed the schools to develop a plan for dealing with a similar situation.

He said he hopes Monday's tour helped to “alleviate and assuage” parents' concerns about the safety of the building.

Since a public meeting on Sept. 24, some parents have been calling for the building to be replaced – something that the district and Suslovic are considering.

Suslovic said Monday that he is looking into the possibility of building a clone of the Ocean Avenue Elementary School, provided there is enough space at the current Hall Elementary site to complete construction and allow students to remain in classes.

“We have the plans, we have the blueprints, we know exactly what it costs. (But) is there enough space to safely build that school while this school remains open, and then move into the new school?” he said. “If we can do that, then to me that gives us a clear pathway to an expedited replacement, in which case we need to appropriate the funds and let's get it done.”

While it is too late to put a bond issue for building a new school on the November ballot, Suslovic said he hopes that by the District 3 annual meeting on Nov. 13 he will know whether it will be possible to have something on the June 2013 ballot.

He said parents and residents interested in the future of Hall School should attend the Nov. 13 meeting at 6 p.m. at Hall Elementary School.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.