BANGOR, Maine — The fire alarms at John Bapst Memorial High School, which caught fire last Wednesday while students were on February break, are fixed and the burned roof is repaired so school will open on Monday as planned.
“All systems go,” John Bapst trustee Karl Ward, president of Brewer contractor Nickerson & O’Day, said Sunday morning. “Thirty cleaning people have been working in classrooms, cleaning hallways and stairwells. The roof is complete except for some gutters, and the fire alarms are good to go.”
The science and biology classrooms on the third floor of the historic 1928 school were closest to the fire that was accidentally started when a longtime employee tried to melt ice on the roof with a propane torch.
The fire also damaged a storage closet adjacent to a science classroom, and the water used to extinguish the flames filtered down and saturated the ceiling of the Joseph W. Sekera Auditorium and the left balcony, where firefighter John York was standing. The water-logged left balcony ceiling fell on York, who was injured and needed to be evacuated. York is home recuperating with a wrist and neck injury.
The water used to put out the flames filled the balcony, requiring that holes be drilled into the ornate plaster on ceilings below to drain the fluid. It also damaged the walls of the emergency exit stairwell. Smoke filled a room adjacent to the stairwell where costumes are stored, which will require them to be cleaned, Ward said.
“The auditorium was more water damaged than thought and specialty equipment has been brought in and will continue drying out the wet plaster for the next three to four more days,” Ward said. “Then we’ll examine the plaster and see what needs repair. Luckily, we were able to find the molds for the original 1928 plastering and will use them to replicate damaged details exactly.”
Since a large portion of the auditorium’s ceiling still needs to dry, Ward estimates the work will take another week.
The damage estimate is more than $75,000 and may possibly exceed $100,000, Ward said.
“We will know a lot more when the plaster completely dries and can be examined,” Ward said. “That could get expensive. The extent of water infiltration was greater than initially thought.”
City fire and building inspectors went through the building for more than two hours on Sunday afternoon before giving the final ok for school to reopen.
“A great team pulled this one off,” Ward said of those who worked to renovate and clean the historic school.