FRENCHVILLE, Maine — The Frenchville Fire Department, and at least five other departments from neighboring towns, responded to a fire at the Dr. Levesque Elementary School early Sunday morning. The school has been in the community since the 1950s.
Benjamin Sirois is the Superintendent of Schools for the Valley Unified Regional Service Center, which includes the town of Frenchville.
He tells NEWS CENTER Maine, only the custodian was at the school at the time the fire started.
"Our building custodian showed up to work this morning, at 7 a.m. and went in the school and started coating the floor with wax, and didn't see or smell anything, after he coated that floor with wax, about 10 to 15 minutes later, he went outside to start picking weeds while the wax dried and that's when he looked up and noticed something starting in the corner of the school," said Sirois.
Sirois indicated that the custodian ran inside the school to try and battle the flames himself with fire extinguishers, but the flames started getting out of control.
"He was heroic, his shoe was even melted from the heat, but he was fine," added Sirois.
The Frenchville Fire Chief told the Superintendent that he believes the fire was electrical-related.
"The chief did share with me there was a double roof system, the fire got trapped in that double roof," said Sirois.
Many neighbors, students, former students, and community members were there as the school went down in flames.
Patience Bernier lives across the street from the school. "We kind of just stood there, all the neighbors and kids in shock, because a bunch of us live right there and have little children that are going to the school," said Patience Bernier. "We all love that little school and the community is really close, it's just heartbreaking, we don't know what we are going to do."
Steven Deschaine was one of the many people who stopped by the school and saw the fire on Sunday morning.
"I guess we were all just talking at the scene... like what is going to happen this fall? Where are these kids going to go to school? Because school starts in about a month, a month and a half," said Deschaine.
Superintendent Sirois says his team immediately held an emergency meeting Sunday evening and crafted a letter to send to parents, teachers, and community members.
In part, the letter reads:
"As you’ve probably surmised or heard, the school is considered a total loss. We have already been in communication with the Department of Education and have been advised that they will work with us in the development of both short-term and long-term plans for elementary education in MSAD33. As I write this letter, a team of us are at the St. John Valley Technology Center exploring short-term options to serve the students and staff of Dr. Levesque Elementary School. Please know that our short-term planning includes continued employment for all Dr. Levesque School staff as we plan to receive students on schedule for the 2021-2022 school year. Please also know that other Valley Unified administrators and teachers have already reached out to let us know they are willing to help in any way possible with supplies and materials. School administrators from MSAD27 and the Madawaska School Department are already identifying school furnishings that can be used as part of the short-term plan. As we develop a short-term plan, Principal Cheryl Hallowell will be in regular contact with you. Mrs. Hallowell and we are confident that, if any school staff and community can exercise the resilience and creativity necessary to weather this loss and navigate the transitions ahead, it is all of you. Take good care of yourselves and each other as you process your loss and rest assured you can count on us to work diligently in addressing staff, student and community needs as we prepare to commence the upcoming school year on schedule."
Sirois tells NEWS CENTER Maine he has some ideas in mind, to make sure students who attended the Dr. Levesque Elementary School can start school on time on September 9th.
"We have a technology center here in Frenchville that may have some potential space for some of the students, we have a community center that may have some space, and we also have the middle and high school that may also have space," said Sirois.
**WARNING - VIDEO IS LIVE AND UNEDITED** (credit: Cindy Nadeau)
A Facebook live stream shows severe damage to the Frenchville school while fire could be seen raging across the entire building.
The dispatcher told NEWS CENTER Maine they were aware several crews were fighting the fire.
NEWS CENTER Maine will update this story when we have more information.