School survives its trial by fire

Elmwood Elementary reopens its doors after August blaze

January 06, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

"Thirteen years of teaching - gone," said Elmwood Elementary School teacher Anne McManus, recalling the bitter reality of a fire that gutted one section of the Overlea school in August.

Yesterday, McManus welcomed kindergartners to a brand-new classroom - one with bright white walls and boxes of fresh crayons and game boards.

"What do you think, guys?" she asked her class. "It's all new!"

Elmwood pupils and their parents got reacquainted with their neighborhood school yesterday.

Fire - caused by a faulty fan - shut down Elmwood on Aug. 22.

During the fall, while workers completed $4.2 million in repairs and building upgrades, Elmwood pupils attended classes at Rosedale Alternative Center.

The welcome-back party started about 9 a.m., when Principal Sharon Attaway greeted the children at the school's front door.

Later, she gave Elmwood parents a tour so they could inspect refurbished classrooms - most of which received new televisions, computers, windows and a fresh coat of paint.

Hands-on tours

"Just feel free to peek in the classrooms," Attaway told curious parents who joined her in a hallway where the fire had done its worst damage.

"See the new lockers here, they're easier to open," Attaway said, testing a metal door.

In the midst of a school stocked with new toilets, sinks, ceiling tiles, rugs, and fire sprinklers, Attaway said she couldn't remember exactly where the fire started.

"There are things I'm trying to forget," she said with a smile.

Teachers spent most of the week preparing their classrooms for the pupils' return.

It wasn't too much work, said fourth-grade teacher Jamie John, despite the vast number of posters, children's drawings and file boxes that decorate many teacher work spaces.

"The county packed things up for us," said John. "At this point, we're pretty much set to go."

The children, on the other hand, needed a bit of coaching.

First day of school

Since they started the school year at a different campus, there were instructions about how to operate lockers and where to sit, and directions to the nearest bathroom - sort of like the first day of the school year all over again.

"I want to go home," said Tina Gemmill, 9, her first day back barely begun.

Tina, a fourth-grader in John's class, managed the locker part of the day just fine, but when it came time to transfer a stack of books and a box of supplies from her locker to her desk there was trouble. It took two trips for Tina to organize everything.

In another classroom, Kyana Banks, 6, seemed impressed with her new surroundings.

"My teacher told me that when I came back to school, it was going to be like it was new," she said.

Parent Debbie Krouse, 29, of Rosedale said she was pleased to have her son, Bruce, 4, back at Elmwood.

"When he was at the Rosedale Alternative Center I had to drive him and there was a bit of a time crunch," said Krouse, whose younger son, Zachary, 3, attends a preschool program that lets out about the same time as Bruce's prekindergarten class, but at a distance from the Rosedale campus.

Krouse said Elmwood neighbors were saddened by the fire.

"After the fire, the school looked horrible, and there was a bad smell," she said. "The lockers were melted to the floor."

"We never thought the school would reopen on time," said Krouse. "But here we are - we're all very happy."

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