Jason Pennock’s finger smudges black after running it along a table in the hallway at Savory elementary. It’s hard to see, but a fine layer of soot clings most ledges and surfaces throughout the building.
A suspicious fire gutted Savory’s office area Sunday morning, but by Tuesday restoration was well underway. Workers with Downs Construction have started the process of bagging students’ clothing and supplies in each desk and classroom. A temporary wall has sealed off the fire-damaged area from rest of the 45-year-old school.
“Dust is on everything, all horizontal surfaces,” said Pennock, the project manger for Downs Construction. “It will take about two weeks to clean this side, then we’ll focus on the gym. The priority is to get kids back in the school.”
Repairing the fire damaged rooms will take longer, especially if panels sealing in asbestos are cracked. The administration area is small and damage is estimated at less than $50,000, but Dennis Maloney, health and safety manager with Downs, said it will take time to form a repair plan due to the poor air quality.
“There will be air testing in the school before and after the kids come in here,” Maloney said. “It is very detailed work. We want to make sure the kids are safe.”
Savory teachers were allowed to collect books and teaching supplies from classrooms Tuesday afternoon in preparation for working in temporary space for two or three weeks. Happy Valley is taking Grade 3 to 6 in unused portable classrooms. Kids in kindergarten to Grade 2 have classroom space at nearby Crystal View elementary.
Teachers in the main floor classrooms wore dust masks while gathering supplies, and the residual smell of smoke hung in the air. The second level suffered far less smoke damage.
“Going into a new place with the kids will be a good adventure,” laughed Grade 6 teacher Alex Reeve, while packing a box in the classroom he’s taught in since 1980. His class is relocating to Happy Valley. “We’ve already planned hikes down the Galloping Goose and we’ll get to do different things. We hope to have a fun few weeks, and then we’ll be back.”
“It’s a hassle but we’ll make the best of it,” remarked teacher Jack Showers. “It will be a fun little adventure going to Happy Valley. The three portables will be like our own little campus.”
Grade 3-4 teacher Terry Kniert spent time figuring out which storybooks to bring along, out of dozens lining the shelf. After 31 years at Savory, he retired a few years ago, but came back as a teacher-on-call.
He worked at the school during its last fire in 1992, an arson lit by a student in the same area as the fire on Sunday. He didn’t expect another nearly 20 years later.
“I didn’t expect this at all, but I love this school and it’s great to come back,” Kniert said. “It’s great to come to a place that’s like home, and it’s nice to help out.”
The ongoing teacher job action hasn’t cropped up in planning or response to temporarily relocate teachers and students. Superintendent Jim Cambridge said the district administration has had nothing but co-operation and assistance from the teachers’ union.
Reeve, the Grade 6 teacher, said district staff have communicated well with teachers and weathered the crisis smoothly.
“I’m impressed with the way the school district has dealt with it all. They’ve made it really easy for us,” Reeve said. “Considering how bad it is, it’s been handled really well.”
The fire at Savory is deemed suspicious, but Langford fire officials or West Shore RCMP haven’t released the suspected cause of the blaze, which was called in at 5:45 a.m. Sunday morning.
Police are investigating if a security alarm triggered at 3:45 a.m. the same morning is connected with the fire.
Anyone who may have seen people in the area around Savory school early Sunday morning are asked call West Shore RCMP at 250-474-2264 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
Parents should check out www.sd62.bc.ca for updates on the plan to temporarily relocate Savory students to different schools.