Lewiston High School gym continues to shelter fire victims

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LEWISTON – Despite the Lewiston High School gym being used as an emergency shelter, classes were held as usual Monday, administrators said.

“It was seamless,” Assistant Principal Michael Hutchins said.

After fire erupted in five apartment buildings in the downtown area Friday night, the gym on East Avenue became emergency shelter. About 50 people stayed at the school Friday and Saturday night, 40 people stayed there Sunday night.

By Monday about five or six families totaling about 20 people were at the shelter, Principal Gus LeBlanc said. By 9 a.m. Tuesday, all are expected to be placed in a motel or apartment, he said.

If not, Jennifer Gaylord, executive director of the American Red Cross, United Valley Chapter, said “as long as there is a need” the shelter will remain open.

When school began Monday morning, students arriving at the gym entrance were redirected by Hutchins through the front.

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Planning paid off, said LeBlanc and Eric Lynes of the American Red Cross. Students even participated in physical education Monday, using part of the gym, lower-level fitness rooms, and outside fields.

“It was a nice day,” LeBlanc said.

Saturday was the day that high school juniors took their SAT exam. With the state’s new grading school systems, “that’s a big deal to the state,” LeBlanc said. Students took the SAT as usual, he said. “Eight or 10 students displaced by the fire showed up. One girl walked to school in her bare feet after losing her shoes in the fire.”

The girl got new shoes at school, he added.

A total of 48 Lewiston students were displaced by the fire, some are high school, some middle school and some elementary students. Their teachers have been made aware.

Superintendent Bill Webster said school went well Monday. Everything that needed to be done was. “The high school has really stepped up,” he said.

While staff has worked to support displaced students and families, students have taken on their own roles. “For instance a second grade at one of our schools is holding a food and penny drive,” Webster said.

There is a role for Lewiston schools to play about fire safety with students, Webster said. He’s waiting to hear from experts “on how we should handle this in the schools. Somewhere, some schools must have been in a similar situation. We might be able to learn from that.”

LeBlanc said it was inspiring to see the community respond to the needs.

“This weekend a tragedy hit. Look at the way the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the YWCA, Catholic Charities, the Lewiston Fire Department, the Lewiston Police Department, Hannaford’s, Panera Bread, Dunkin’ Donuts, Poland Spring responded. I’m really proud of Lewiston,” LeBlanc said.

High school students volunteered at the shelter this weekend, serving food, playing with children and handing out clothes. Restaurants and the grocery chain provided provided food for breakfast and lunch. Poland Spring Water Co. provided water.

Eric Lynes, response manager for the American Red Cross, agreed.

The fires have been costly, major fires. “Naturally the emotional toll on people is quite high,” Lynes said. But the love of community shown by people is also “at an all-time high.”

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