Midcoast schools close early due to heat, air quality

(BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT)

CAPTION

Second-year student Jake Lavoie of Frenchville strolls through a water sprinkler on the mall at the University of Maine in Orono on Wednesday, September 1, 2010. University of Maine officials set up the sprinklers, along with a sign encouraging students to play in the water to cool down, due to continuing abnormally high temperatures. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
(BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT) CAPTION Second-year student Jake Lavoie of Frenchville strolls through a water sprinkler on the mall at the University of Maine in Orono on Wednesday, September 1, 2010. University of Maine officials set up the sprinklers, along with a sign encouraging students to play in the water to cool down, due to continuing abnormally high temperatures. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
Posted Sept. 01, 2010, at 1:06 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Several schools around the state sent children home early Wednesday as temperatures reached or exceeded 90 degrees for a fourth straight day.

By midafternoon Wednesday, the National Weather Service said temperatures had reached 95 degrees in Bangor, 91 degrees in Portland and 91 degrees in Caribou.

Students in Camden, Rockland, Hope, Belfast and the surrounding towns were dismissed starting at 11:30 a.m., according to district secretaries. Students at schools in Fort Kent and Madawaska were sent home at about 1 p.m., according to officials in northern Aroostook County.

Other schools contacted by the Bangor Daily News, including in Bangor, continued classes as scheduled, but canceled or curtailed school activities and sporting events due to the heat.

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Dee Tidd, the central office secretary for Union 69 in Hope, said that the heat closure is “very rare” but that it has been miserably hot in the Union’s non-air-conditioned schools.

“We don’t get weather like this very often. It’s just awful,” she said. “And of course the air quality is awful.”

The weather service says the last time Portland had four days in a row of 90-plus temperatures was in 1993, while Caribou hasn’t had a four-day stretch since 1963. Bangor went four days in 2002 with temperatures of 90 or higher.

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory Wednesday afternoon warning that moderate to high humidity levels were raising heat index values to near 100 degrees.

“The high heat and humidity combined with the long duration of the current heat wave will make conditions uncomfortable and potentially dangerous especially in hot buildings without air conditioning or proper ventilation,” the advisory stated.

Another heat advisory might be needed today with the forecast calling for the high heat and humidity to continue.

State environmental officials also issued an air quality alert concerning unhealthful ground-level ozone concentrations along the Maine coast Wednesday and into today. Under such conditions, people suffering from respiratory disease such as asthma, and children and healthy adults who exert themselves can experience shortness of breath, coughing and throat irritation.

Kathy Blais, secretary to the RSU 13 superintendent in Rockland, said Wednesday that she has been working in area schools for 25 years and it was her first experience with a heat-related closure. School officials had made the decision earlier in the morning to cancel athletic practices and to have indoor recess for students, but beginning at 11:30 sent the high school and middle school students home. Elementary school students were let out at 12:30.

School officials in the Camden-Rockport area also made the decision to send students home after the thermometer crawled up to 94 degrees. Wayne Dorr, superintendent of area schools, said some students suffered from heat-related symptoms such as fatigue.

“Clearly, the heat was debilitating,” Dorr said.

Heather Perry, superintendent of SAD 3 in western Waldo County, decided Wednesday afternoon not to send the district’s 1,450 students home early despite the sweltering weather.

In part, she said she made that decision because nearly 80 percent of the student body qualifies for free and reduced lunch, which means the students come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the poverty level. The schools might have more resources to make sure the students got through the heat OK, she said.

“I didn’t want to send them home early,” Perry said. “We’re giving students plenty of water.”

Schools in the Old Town, Corinth and Lincoln areas canceled all after-school activities.

Bangor Superintendent Betsy Webb said the school system was using common sense when it comes to the high temperatures.

“What we are doing is canceling middle school athletics practice after school and we’re going to reschedule a field hockey game at the high school,” she said early Wednesday afternoon. “And we’re having the high school coaches offer later, lighter and shorter practices.”

If the heat wave continues, school officials will review whether or not to reschedule a freshman football game scheduled for today, Webb said.

Bangor Daily News writer Nok-Noi Ricker and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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