SOUTH PORTLAND — Memorial Middle School will be closed Thursday for the third day this week as school officials try to fix a costly boiler breakdown that caused heating oil odors to be released into the building.

Although Memorial students stayed home from school on Monday and Wednesday, they will be expected to attend classes at South Portland High School on Thursday, Superintendent Ken Kunin said Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re going to have as typical a school day as possible,” Kunin said, “but it won’t be all that typical.”

Kunin and facilities staff members have been working with Clean Harbors and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to address flooding, heating and ventilation problems at the aging middle school, which is targeted for replacement.

Their effort started Monday morning, when a custodian arrived early to find the school was cold, water was knee-deep in the boiler room and the building’s two boilers had shut down.

Kunin sent an email to the school community at 6:50 a.m. Monday, canceling classes for the day and apologizing for the late notice. The boilers were back online by noon Monday and cleanup was expected to continue into the next day. Students were invited to return Tuesday.

However, when classes resumed Tuesday, the faint smell of heating oil lingered in some areas near the boiler room, causing school officials to close the kitchen and band room. Lunch staff members made and served sandwiches in the cafeteria.

Some students and staff members noticed the oil odor and reported feeling nauseated, Kunin said. However, DEP officials have been monitoring air quality, and while public health was never in serious jeopardy, the district wants to limit any exposure to unpleasant or potentially harmful odors, he said.

The boilers failed again around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. Facilities staff members were able to get one boiler working again, but its continued operation wasn’t guaranteed. That, combined with the continuing odor problem, prompted Kunin to cancel classes Wednesday and to keep the school closed Thursday.

“We’re taking this action out of an abundance of caution,” he said.

Kunin said he and others believe the oil odor is traveling along pipes and other airways in the walls of the school, which was built in 1967. Although the total cost of cleaning up the school and fixing the boilers is not yet known, each boiler needs a new burner at a cost of $15,000 apiece, Kunin said.

He hopes to have the students back in Memorial on Friday, the last day before the Christmas break.

Memorial is one of two aging middle schools in the city that would be replaced by a proposed $50 million consolidated middle school planned for the Memorial site at 120 Wescott Road. The project would be funded by the Maine Department of Education.

On Thursday, Memorial students who usually take the bus will be transported to the high school. Students who walk to school will be picked up outside Memorial and bused to the high school. Parents who drive their children to school may drop them off at the high school for an 8:30 a.m. start.

Sixth-graders will attend classes in a wing of the high school that will be set aside for Memorial students. Seventh- and eighth-graders will be bused to Portland Stage for a scheduled field trip to see “A Christmas Carol,” which they’ve been studying in English classes.

All Memorial students will be dismissed from the high school at 12:45 p.m., which will make it a shorter day than usual, but one that will meet state attendance requirements, Kunin said. It’s unclear whether Memorial students will have to make up other days missed because of the boiler breakdown.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard


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