BANGOR, Maine — When John Bapst Memorial High School students walked into the Joseph W. Sekera Auditorium on Wednesday morning, they saw firsthand how workers repaired the damage from a recent fire and thanked the firefighters who saved the building, including one who was injured.
“It gives me great pleasure to say welcome home,” Principal David Armistead said just after the last members of the student body took their seats in the auditorium that was damaged when a fire broke out Feb. 18, when students were on February break.
When the principal asked, “What do you think?” the repair work was given a round of applause by the students and staff.
The science and biology classrooms and a storage closet on the third floor of the historic 1928 school were nearest to the fire that accidentally was started when a longtime employee tried to melt ice on the roof with a propane torch.
The water used to extinguish the flames filtered down and saturated the ceiling of the auditorium and the left side of the balcony, where firefighter John York was standing. He was injured when the water-logged balcony ceiling fell on him, which led to a mayday call and his evacuation. York, in uniform, sat in the first row Wednesday.
“That section of ceiling came down on one of their brothers,” John Bapst trustee Karl Ward, president of Brewer contractor Nickerson & O’Day, said about the Bangor-area firefighters who responded to the fire.
Bangor Fire Chief Tom Higgins and Assistant Fire Chief Chris Dorr stood beside York as plaques for bravery and thanks were presented to them by the students. The firefighters were given a standing ovation.
The students also presented a plaque to Ward for the hundreds of workers who helped to clean after the fire and repair the damage. Ward listed off a dozen Maine companies that had a hand in fixing the roof and other areas damaged by fire by airing out the smoke; cleaning; fixing electrical problems, including the fire alarm; replacing the acoustic tiles on the ceiling; and other jobs.
The damage estimate to the historic school, which originally was assessed at between $75,000 and $100,000 by Ward, has jumped considerably with the amount of cleaning work required.
“With the fire restoration [cleaning] work that was performed by SERVPRO, my guess is the final tally will be over $300,000,” the school trustee said. “I am not privy to the SERVRO costs, as they are invoiced directly to the insurance company.”
The assembly also featured music provided by students and ended with an announcement that the school’s robotics team earned second place in a recent competition.
Armistead released the students, saying the auditorium is fully operational again and lunches will again be served in the school’s central gathering room.
“We are back online,” the principal said.