Somerville Catholic school damaged by fire

A Sept. 14 fire at St. Ann School in Somerville caused severe damage, preventing students from returning for at least a week.

Neighbors next door to the school called the fire department on Sunday afternoon to report that St. Ann’s elementary school was ablaze. The Somerville fire department responded to the two-alarm fire, which they were able to contain to the teachers’ lounge, where it originated. The lounge is part of a remodeled section of the two-story school.

Because it was a weekend and classes were not in session, no one was injured. However, damage to the building, caused mainly by smoke, is significant.

The lounge was totally destroyed. The classrooms for seventh and eight graders, which are located above the lounge, will have to be moved to the library and computer lab because the damage to those rooms was so great. According to principal Grace Alexander, the section of the building that housed the lounge and seventh and eighth grades will ultimately be blocked off from the remainder of the building.

Officials from the fire department and the school estimate that it will be at least a week before the building will be fully cleaned and the 176 students allowed to return to class.

The day after the fire, the smell of smoke permeated the air and clung to workers cleaning and inspecting the school. Every window and door in the school was opened in an attempt to dissipate the stench.

"It's heartbreaking to see and it's sad because this is a building where children have enjoyed school for many years," said Alexander, as she stood amongst the debris of soot, glass and puddles of water that covered the floor of the school. "It's very unexpected."

Alexander, former principal of St. Ambrose School in Dorchester, which closed last June, just began her position at St. Ann School this month. Although she feels terrible about what happened to the building, she was extremely thankful that school was not in session when the fire broke out.

"I'm grateful to God because kids were not in the building," she said. "That's a blessing."

Parents she has spoken with since the fire say that their children are “very sad” about what has happened to their school. A meeting for concerned parents and parishioners was held Sept. 15.

"It's devastating and unreal," said Joan Bishop, a parishioner at St. Ann Parish, who saw the destruction first-hand. "I can't believe that this could happen."

The investigation into how the fire started is ongoing said Alexander. Inspectors and archdiocesan officials spent well over a dozen hours at the building in the two days since the fire was controlled.

Kent Wilkins, claims manager for the archdiocesan Office of Risk Management and Insurance, surveyed the entire building and described the damage as “a substantial loss.”

While a dollar figure has not yet been assigned to the destruction, Wilkins estimates that it will take “several hundreds of thousands of dollars” to clean and repair the school.