LEWISTON — Tuesday was a long, boring day for students at Lewiston Middle School.
A power outage that happened just as the school day began kept students in their homerooms most of the day. The school was without lights and phones.
Power was restored at 2:50 p.m. The problem was a defective transformer, which Central Maine Power Co. replaced, Human Resources Director Tom Jarvis said.
He said officials discovered early in the morning that lines that feed power to the furnace were not working. “We made a decision, since we had power, that we were all set," Jarvis said. "We were going to have school.”
Minutes later, all of the power went out. It was after 7 a.m. and "the buses were rolling,” he said. Students were on their way. CMP showed up and began working to restore power.
“We made a decision that the kids are safest here in the building, rather than dismissing them” to homes that might be unoccupied, Jarvis said. “We reorganized the day. Students stayed in their classrooms with their teachers, minimizing the amount of moving going on.”
During the outage, the first few hours weren't bad, much like a power outage at home.
“But it's getting a little long now,” said eighth-grade math teacher Chris Roy. He'd been in the same room with his homeroom students for almost five hours. Students did homework on their laptops or read.
“I started with 11 students. I'm down to four,” he said as students slouched at their desks. Students whose parents showed up to get them were allowed to leave.
Many classrooms had plenty of light from windows. But hallways and stairways were dark, making it unsafe for students to change classes.
Staff prepared cold lunches that were delivered to homerooms.
“We sent out phone messages letting parents know the middle school was without power and CMP is on the scene,” Jarvis said. “We assured parents that the building is warm. The students are safe. We're providing meals. We'd be dismissing at normal dismissal time.”
Initially, officials hoped the power would be out for only an hour. At first the emergency lights came on. By noon, the batteries had died. Maintenance crews rounded up flashlights. “It's taken longer for CMP to address the problem,” Jarvis said.
It was time for Plan B. Class by class, students were taken to the armory next door for the day's dismissal. “It's safer to dismiss over there where we do have light,” Jarvis said.
After-school activities, including parent-teacher conferences, were canceled, he said.
With phones out, staff used cell phones and radios, Jarvis said. Many students called their parents on their cells, asking them to come and pick them up.
Many parents did. At noon, a long line of parents waited to get to the main office, show their identification and pick up their students. The parent line snaked from the main office, across a corridor, down two flights of dark stairs, across the lobby and to the Central Avenue door.
“My son called and said, 'Come get me. We have no power. We can leave.' That's all I know,” said parent Wanda Lebrun.
“The kids are bored to tears,” teacher Gisele Cyr said. “It's like being in a car with your children (who ask), 'Are we there yet?' multiplied by a whole classroom.” Students were behaving well, she said.
“You would never convince me at 7:30 this morning this would go as smoothly as it has. The kids have been marvelous,” said U.S. history teacher Dave Martel.
School is on for Wednesday. Everything's all set, Jarvis said.