With kids running and laughing and parents milling about, Savory elementary buzzed with eager anticipation Tuesday morning. It was like the first day of school all over again.
Three weeks after fire ripped through the administrative wing of Savory, 155 students and their teachers filed back into their classrooms, happy to be home.
“It was a lot of work. We are certainly grateful to the school district for help planning this, and thankful to the host schools,” said Savory principal Klaus Benker. “But we are happy to be back. We’re getting everyone settled and starting the year all over again.”
In the past two weeks, every surface, shelf, toy and book throughout the school has been scrubbed clean of soot. The gym area, which school officials expected to take longer, is also ready to go.
“Savory has done amazingly well getting done on time,” said SD 62 superintendent Jim Cambridge. “The air quality results are in and the school is good to go.”
Fire destroyed administration offices on Sept. 11 in what West Shore RCMP allege is an arson committed by two Langford teens. A 16-year-old minor and 19-year-old Jordan Deluca are charged with arson.
Savory students and staff were upbeat about the temporary move, calling it an adventure. Younger kids had two weeks in Crystal View elementary and older grades went to portables at Happy Valley. Many Savory kids walk to school, making the daily school bus a novelty.
“We’ve really enjoyed having the Savory students here. The Happy Valley PAC, teachers and students have been so wonderful in welcoming the Savory students into our school,” said Julia Sahota, principal of Happy Valley elementary.
Parent Christine Steadman said the process of busing kids from Savory to host schools was smooth and well organized. On rainy days, the district even set up tents at Savory to shelter kids and parents waiting for the bus.
It was fun for a while, but Steadman said her daughter Annalise is ready to restart Grade 2 at Savory. “It was a new adventure to start the year,” Steadman said. “She was excited to take the school bus.”
Parent Shannon Jamieson said it wasn’t the best way to start the year, but her five-year-old daughter Elizabeth took it in stride. “It was exciting for her first year at kindergarten. She liked taking the bus, but is happy to come back,” Jamieson said.
Benker, who has a temporary administration office in the school library, said support from teachers and the community is overwhelming. Teachers’ ongoing work-to-rule job action was effectively, although temporarily, suspended. Monks Office Supply and other donors replaced thousands of dollars of students’ contaminated school supplies, freeing parents from buying twice.
“It was amazing how teachers and staff pulled together, and how the community pulled together with donations,” Benker said. “It touches the heart, it is a statement about the human spirit. In adversity, people come together and help each other out.”
Savory cleanup continues
As students went back into cleaned Savory classrooms Tuesday morning, a Downs Construction crew donned white contamination suits and pressurized face masks.
The fire-damaged administration hall is sealed from the rest of the 45-year-old school, and the work area itself is sealed behind multiple pressurized chambers.
Removing fire-spread asbestos is a meticulous, labourious process, said Jason Pennock, project manager for Downs.
“You can’t use any power tools, (the walls) have to be broken down by hand tools,” Pennock said. “You need the right guys to muscle it out.”
They expect to be finished Thursday, which will allow the office rebuild to begin.