BELFAST — While the Penobscot McCrum potato processing plant was burning to the ground, Regional School Unit 71 staff were helping take care of some of their vulnerable neighbors. The district canceled school yesterday because of fears that chemical tanks at McCrum might explode, pouring toxic fumes into the air. RSU 71’s bus garage and Belfast Area High School are near the site, which prompted the cancellation.

Harbor Hill Center, also located near McCrum, was evacuated for similar reasons, and residents were taken to safety at Troy Howard Middle School. In her weekly newsletter, district Superintendent Mary Alice McLain praised district staff, who “transported, warmly welcomed, and wheeled elderly residents of Harbor Hill into the middle school gym, cafeteria, and a classroom turned into a medication dispensary.”

She told The Republican Journal March 25 that the Harbor Hills residents came into the school via a back door as students were being sent home through the front doors, for a transition that, far from chaotic, was “absolutely beautiful.” Noting that RSU 71 is the evacuation location for Harbor Hill, she said staff from the district and from Harbor Hill worked well together to tend to residents. “It was really a feel-good moment,” she said.

Residents received a hot breakfast made by the kitchen staff at Troy Howard, and many expressed their appreciation for the warm welcome, the superintendent said. In her newsletter, she mentioned one man who spoke to her, saying, “You are looking at the people who built the city of Belfast.”

In all, 75 to 80 residents and staff were at the middle school for two hours or so. As the last residents were arriving at the school, the all-clear went out for them to return to Harbor Hill.

When McLean spoke to The Journal, she said she had been told the executive director of the nursing home was coming over to express her thanks. “We met the challenges of the day, and I’m very proud of our staff. I’m also grateful to have been able to help,” she said.