School fire suspicious

Third grade teacher Vincent Oberst removes what he can salvage

Gilroy
– A fire at Glen View Elementary School that destroyed four
classrooms has been labeled suspicious by police and fire
officials. Investigations are also under way for a second fire and
two cases of vandalism that occurred at area schools over the
weekend.
Gilroy – A fire at Glen View Elementary School that destroyed four classrooms has been labeled suspicious by police and fire officials. Investigations are also under way for a second fire and two cases of vandalism that occurred at area schools over the weekend.

“It is a suspicious fire,” said field operations chief Ed Bozzo of Tuesday’s blaze at Glen View. “We have not ruled out all accidental causes, but it is suspicious because it started on the outside.”

Aside from the activity at Glen View, a small fire erupted in a garbage bin Saturday at Rod Kelley, a Pepsi machine at Ascension Solorsano Middle School was destroyed and the change stolen, and several fire extinguishers were sprayed throughout the halls and offices of Antonio Del Buono Elementary, said Jeff Gopp, manager of maintenance and operations for Gilroy Unified School District.

“Gilroy has a vandalism problem and something needs to be done,” Gopp said. “There need to be consequences.”

As suspicious as two fires in one week at separate elementary schools may seem, police and fire officials have not linked the two. “I don’t want to speculate and say that they’re related,” Bozzo said. “Because right now, we just don’t know.”

Smoke still permeates the air outside Glen View. The walls and doors of the classrooms are blackened. Books and notebooks lay soaking on the ground – their edges singed. Twisted gutters rest on the walkways, and a blanket of gray foam covers classroom carpets. Two third grade classrooms and two fifth grade classrooms are gone.

“All the personal stuff that teachers and kids have is 100-percent lost,” said Charlie Van Meter, Gilroy’s director of facilities planning development and construction. “It just breaks my heart. Fire is unforgiving. It takes everything.”

Damages are estimated to be at least $1.5 million, according to Gopp. The district is filing for “critical hardship money” from the Office of Public School Construction, Van Meter said.

Teachers dropped by throughout the day to inspect the damage, and to help those who need to rebuild.

“I want to see if little things are left,” said Vincent Oberst. Inside what used be his third grade classroom are piles of waterlogged student activity books and clothing, glass shards, and drapes hanging without purpose. The desks and chairs were salvaged, as well as the student report cards, which were kept locked in a metal desk that escaped unscathed.

“I’m not worried about wet. I’m worried about destroyed. All the kids’ work is toast,” he said.

Work crews tore boards from the windows. One murmured, “It looks like a blackhole,” as he peered inside.

Curious kids rode around yellow caution tape on their bikes. Cars filled with parents and children slowly drove down Eighth Street, shaking their heads as they passed. You wouldn’t know it was school vacation week by the activity level at Glen View. School board members, past and present, milled around the campus, touring what was left.

A plan already is in place for Monday when schools reopen. All of the children who lost their classrooms to the fire will be housed on site – moving into the library, test center and resource rooms to set up shop for the rest of the year Van Meter said.

“We’re not going to stop the educational process.”

Insurance investigators and engineers visited the school to examine the damage and determine whether its more cost effective to just start over, rather than renovating that wing of the school. That particular section was built in 1954, and would not meet present day building standards he said, so renovations may be out of the question.

“We’re probably looking at a total loss, looking at from where (the damage) starts and where it ends,” said assistant superintendent Steve Brinkman. “It’s disheartening to go to a school and look at the teachers and students faces after something like this. It really hits home for people when it’s at a school.”

Rita Rauss visited her fifth grade classroom. It looks like what a classroom at Glen View Elementary is supposed to resemble: Student desks are grouped in clusters and books stacked neatly on shelves. Outside her window a portable chain link fence separates the charred classroom remains hers faces.

“You worry about how the kids will take it,” she said shaking her head. “There will be rumors flying.”

Rauss spent the afternoon wiping books down in the library, and collecting her colleagues paperwork so it wouldn’t get taken by the wind. Clasping her hands she mourned the total losses one third grade classroom suffered. Not even water-damaged papers remain. “The kids need those materialistic things, they have nothing to show for (their hard work) now,” she said. “This is not quite the way we expected to spend our vacations.”

Anyone who has any information may call police at 846-0300.

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