An elementary school in northern Aroostook County was destroyed by fire Sunday morning just weeks before classes were scheduled to begin.

The Dr. Levesque Elementary School in Frenchville is a total loss, according to a statement issued Sunday evening by School Administrative District 33 Superintendent Benjamin Sirois. Three years ago, the school was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

“Please know that our minds and hearts are with you as you process the devastating loss you’ve experienced as a result of this morning’s fire at the Dr. Levesque Elementary School. As you’ve probably surmised or heard, the school is considered a total loss,” Sirois wrote in his message to students, parents and community members.

Sirois said SAD 33 has been in touch with the Maine Department of Education, which has told the district the state will work with it to develop short-term and long-term plans for continuing to provide elementary education to students.

The district is exploring the possibility of holding classes this fall at the St. John Valley Technology Center in Frenchville. Under that plan, staff would continue to be employed at the center and students would remain on track to resume their normal fall schedule. Other schools and districts, including SAD 27 in Madawaska, are looking into the possibility of identifying school furnishings and school supplies that could be donated.

Sirois told News Center Maine that the school custodian showed up for work around 7 a.m. Sunday and started waxing floors. About 10 to 15 minutes later, the custodian, who had gone outside, noticed smoke and flames coming from a corner of the school.

The custodian ran back inside and tried to put the fire out with a fire extinguisher, but by then it was out of control.

“He was heroic, his shoe was even melted from the heat, but he was fine,” Sirois told News Center Maine. Sirois said firefighters told him the cause may have been related to some type of electrical malfunction.

The school was named after Dr. Romeo J. Levesque, a family doctor in Frenchville who dedicated his life to caring for the sick in the St. John Valley. It is the only elementary school in the district, having opened in the 1950s. Frenchville is located on the Canadian border near Fort Kent and Madawaska.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Education named the school a National Blue Ribbon School, one of only three schools in Maine chosen for the honor. The other two were Falmouth High School and Yarmouth Elementary School.

In his letter, Sirois told community members that Cheryl Hallowell, the principal of the school, will be in regular contact with families.

“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 said.

Students in grades K-6 are scheduled to begin classes on Sept. 9, according to the SAD 33 calendar for the 2021-22 school year. Sirois said about 130 students attended the school last year.

Sunday’s fire was the second major fire in Aroostook County this month. The Watson Settlement Bridge in Littleton, which was built in 1911 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was destroyed by fire last week.

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