St. John Valley

District weighs options to replace elementary school destroyed by fire

FRENCHVILLE, Maine — School officials in a small Aroostook County town are weighing potential options to replace an elementary school building destroyed by fire last July.

Dr. Levesque Elementary School in Frenchville burned to the ground in a daytime fire that took place over summer break. The fire displaced 130 students and 20 staff members of the award-winning school.

SAD 33 board of directors will seek a state subsidy toward funding construction of a new K-12 school building in the district. In order to qualify, the district would first need to be placed on the state’s major capital school construction list. 

The crowded list contained 74 schools as of Aug. 14, 2018, according to SAD 33 Superintendent Ben Sirois in a letter to district parents.

It is possible for a district to receive emergency status placement on the list, according to Maine law. School projects that qualify for emergency status are those uninhabitable and requiring replacement of all or a significant portion of the building as a result of sudden natural disaster or human disaster.

Since last year’s fire, Dr. Levesque’s first- through sixth-grade students have been attending classes in a wing of Wisdom Middle/High School, in the district town of St. Agatha. Meanwhile Pre-K and kindergarten students were taught in the basement of a nearby Catholic Church until February, when a portable classroom became available. 

The aging middle/high school building is in need of costly repairs and updates. 

“The question now becomes, do we invest large amounts of money into Wisdom to address all identified issues or do we look to secure a new school for the future of education in MSAD33,” Sirois said.

The SAD 33 board of directors has hired engineering firm WBRC of Bangor to conduct a structural, electrical, and fire assessment of the middle/high-school building, Sirois said.

The district received an insurance payout of just under $3.9 million for the loss of the Dr. Levesque school building. 

“Obviously the cost of the loss is nowhere near the cost of replacement, as a building that was built decades ago does not compare to new construction in 2022 and beyond,” Sirois said.

Sirois assured parents that whichever route the district takes, building a new school or just repairing the middle/high-school, district voter approval will be required.

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