SANFORD — Authorities are investigating a suspected vandalism spree at the new Sanford High School that occurred on Monday, June 11, and included four small fires and other damages.
According to Chief Steven Benotti of the Sanford Fire Department, a police officer spotted flames through the front doors of the school’s lobby as he conducted a routine security check at the construction site early on Monday morning. Benotti said the fire department was alerted to the situation at 4:26 a.m.
Sanford firefighters responded to the scene, located off Route 109 in South Sanford, behind the stretch that includes the Sanford Manor and the Center for Shopping. Eventually, the firefighters needed mutual aid from the fire departments in Wells, North Berwick, and Acton.
“It’s such a massive building,” Benotti noted, referring to its 380,000-plus square footage.
Firefighters found four relatively small fires, all on the school’s first floor, all deemed suspicious.
“One fire might be accidental,” Benotti explained. “Multiple fires are a clear indication of vandalism.”
The fires occurred throughout the building. In the lobby, a wooden storage box topped with blueprints and other materials were on fire, Benotti said.
Firefighters cleared the scene at around 9 a.m. City Fire Marshal Patrick Cotter, local police and representatives of the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms remained at the site to investigate.
According to Benotti, the incident caused more than $100,000 in damages — most of that amount, though, is attributed to the lost wages of the construction workers who were unable to work at the site that day.
Benotti said the actual damage to the new school was minimal. The building is largely concrete and steel, so smoke-related damage was the most significant consequence of the fires. The new school’s smoke evacuation system is currently being installed and was not up and running to combat the incident, according to Benotti; firefighters used fans to drive out the smoke, and that took some time.
Superintendent of Schools David Theoharides described the other acts of vandalism that occurred during the alleged spree. Someone poured a long, white streak of paint down one hallway. A panel of glass was broken in the main office. Someone rammed a scissor lift into an unfinished wall.
Security cameras are not yet installed on the new campus, but will be, according to Theoharides. During the construction, the contractors are responsible for providing security at the site, he added.
According to Theoharides, the damage was enough to only set the construction of the new high school back a day or two and is not the primary reason why the facility likely will not be ready to open in time for the new academic year in September. Theoharides stated that a shortage of laborers — in particular, those willing to work overtime – is the reason for the delay. He added that the length of the delay is not yet known.
“It’s up to the contractor to determine what the delay will be,” Theoharides said, adding that he could get an answer by the end of this week.
Public tours of the new high school will take place as planned this Friday, June 15, according to Theoharides. The tours are a fundraiser that is part of an effort by the Sanford Alumni Association and the Sanford Schools Legacy Foundation to raise $2 million to be used for infrastructure and equipment for the new high school and technical center and its athletic facilities and performing arts center.
The Sanford Police Department in conjunction with Hutter Construction are offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the person(s) responsible for the arson and vandalism to the new Sanford High School construction site that occurred on June 11.
If you have information, please contact Det. Colleen Adams at (207) 324-9170 ext. 226 or by e-mail at Cjadams@sanfordmaine.org. If you would like to leave a confidential tip, you may do so by calling (207) 324-9170 ext. 170 or by visiting www.tipsubmit.com.