Update: At this time, Orrick district Superintendent Scott Archibald said he does not know when the school will re-open.
ORRICK – Issues remained unresolved after Wednesday’s fire at Orrick Elementary School, but Orrick's district Superintendent said Friday morning he remained focused on getting answers, including when school would restart.
“We’re doing everything we can to get our kids back into this building as quickly as possible,” Superintendent Scott Archibald said. “But my Number 1 priority is the safety of the building, and once I know the building’s safe, we’ll get everybody in.”
Early in the day, Archibald could not say when school would reopen for the roughly 300 district students, but around 6 p.m. Friday he said he does not know when school will reopen.
Answering the question proved difficult due to lingering concern about the structure’s integrity, smoke issues and the need for an abundance of caution to assure safety for students, Archibald said.
“We have to do our testing. We’ve got to determine what exactly’s wrong,” he said. “The structural engineers will be here today. After they are here and they’ve deemed what’s safe, where we can be, what we can do, then we’ll have restoration people who’ll come in.”
Restoration workers will clean the building to prepare for occupancy, Archibald said.
The source of the fire has not been determined officially, he said, but the preliminary indication, based on a fire inspector’s review, is that workers on the building roof are responsible. Various workers on the roof had labored to reduce energy costs and to provide tuckpointing for the structure, he said.
The company’s insurer will cover all repair costs, Archibald said.
“If I had to say there’s a silver lining, there’s nothing (financially) on us,” he said, adding the cost of the damage has not been determined. “What is visible is there are four rooms that have been damaged – we have three rooms with substantial damage, we have one room with partial damage, we have hallways that have been damaged.”
In addition, there is significant damage in the structure’s expansive roof and attic, which date to the 1930s and to the 1940s, that need to be evaluated, he said.
Structural engineers Friday afternoon found more roof damage than expected, Archibald said Friday evening.
Prior to the fire, the district had missed 12 days of school due to bad weather, he said. The fire added another eight days.
Archibald said he has been in contact with the state about the lost school days.
“Nine of those days we have to make up,” he said. “That’s state law.”
The state “forgave” three weather days and Archibald said the eight fire days also may be forgiven, though there is no guarantee.
“If we have to make those days up, then we’re in school for those days,” he said. “But I don’t think we’re going to be at that stage because everything I’ve been told is that we should get those days forgiven.”
The greatest concern during the ordeal, Archibald said, has been for staff and student safety.
“These are all material things. It can be replaced. That was our Number 1 thing. And now, every conversation I’ve had with our contractors is to get us safe to where we can get back into the building,” he said.
Staff has been at work on where to locate students in other parts of the K-12 school complex, so education can continue when the elementary school part of the complex is declared safe, Archibald said.
Praise came from Archibald for Orrick, Wood Heights, Excelsior Springs, Hardin and Lawson fire departments, based on their cooperation in containing and then putting out the fire.
“I can’t thank our fire departments enough, because this could have been a lot worse,” he said. “They did a great job. ... It could have spread a lot worse than what it did.”
Staff and students also acted admirably, Archibald said.
“For such an emergency to happen, the response of our staff and our students was phenomenal,” he said. “We were out of the building within ... a matter of minutes.”
Fire drills during the school year helped with making sure students knew how to evacuate properly and without panic, Archibald said.
“Of course, kids are scared. Any time you have (a drill), that’s the first reaction. But, honestly, some of the kids may have thought it was just a drill that we were doing, and I don’t think people realized (an actual fire existed) until after they were out of the building, and they looked up and said, ‘Oh, there really is smoke.’
“I can’t commend my students and staff enough for how they handled themselves.”