Students at the Captain Albert Stevens School in Belfast will temporarily attend classes at the United Farmers Market of Maine in downtown Belfast, including in this space overlooking Belfast Harbor, while their school is undergoing water damage repairs. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — After a year and a half of having the coronavirus pandemic disrupt their educations, local elementary school children now are having to contend with storm damage to their classrooms.

This school year will start with 180 elementary school pupils at Captain Albert W. Stevens School in Belfast taking classes at the United Farmers Market of Maine building while repairs are made to the school, which was damaged in an early August rainstorm. The development comes more than a year after students at the school had to endure remote learning from home and at least one COVID case at the school that resulted in some students and staff having to quarantine at home for 2 weeks. 

The start of school this fall has been postponed for a week, Principal Glen Widmer said Tuesday, who added that students may be back at the school building by October.

“My hope is that the deconstruction will be done in a couple of weeks and then we can start to build back,” he said. “I feel good about the crew doing the work. As long as they can stick to their timeline, which I’m hopeful can happen, we’ll get it done.”

He said he is not sure yet about the cost of repairing the damage, but expects it to be largely covered by the district’s insurance policy.

The damage happened during a torrential rainstorm about two weeks ago, according to Regional School Unit 71 Superintendent Mary Alice McLean. A tarp came off a roofing project at the school, allowing “buckets of water” to come into the building,” she wrote in a letter posted to the district’s website. Student restrooms, hallways, the library, guidance department and resource rooms were flooded and 20 staff members have been temporarily displaced from classrooms and office spaces, she said.

The damage was discovered the day after the rainstorm by a couple of teachers who came in to work on their classrooms for the upcoming school year, Widmer said.  

Some children will be able to stay at the elementary school — including kindergarten, first grade and some second grade students — but the rest will head downtown to their temporary classroom space at the market.

“The one message I’d like to convey is how wonderful the town has been in supporting us,” Widmer said. “There have just been so many people who have said ‘let us know how we can help out.’ So many teachers have been embracing this as a way to be really creative in trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

Holding the school at the United Farmers Market of Maine space will not affect the Saturday markets, according to owner Paul Naron.

“The market is very alive, and we’re taking all safety precautions,” he said. “We’re doing what we can to accommodate [the school]. It’s the right thing to do.”

The school in the market will be called the “Community Adventure School,” Widmer said. Administrators and teachers are planning to take advantage of downtown institutions and opportunities, including the Belfast Free Library, Waterfall Arts and the Museum in the Streets, which has created a self-guided walking tour around the city.

“Last year, we wanted to have more outdoor learning because of COVID,” he said. “Now, we’re going to exponentially increase our outdoor learning.”

Many organizations have stepped up with offers to help with possible field trips, programming and more, including the Coastal Mountains Land Trust, Tanglewood 4-H Camp & Learning Center in Lincolnville, the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition and peer leaders from Belfast Area High School.

Widmer appreciates all the support. So do the teachers and others in the school community.

“I think everybody’s doing pretty well,” Widmer said. “I know there are some teachers who are losing sleep over this, but there’s just no way you can imagine exactly what it’s going to look like. We’re letting go of a real definite vision of what it’s going to be.”

But Jamie Van Keuren of the United Farmers Market said he has a good idea of how it will go.

“It’s going to be an adventure for the kids and faculty,” he said. “And a learning experience for us.”