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'Christmas angels' credited for quick recovery at Outlook school


Sunnyside School District Superintendent Rick Cole speaks to Noon Rotary members Monday.

The Outlook Elementary School fire that occurred on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006, has been a large concern to the community.

During the Monday, Jan. 8, Sunnyside Noon Rotary meeting, Sunnyside School District Superintendent Rick Cole gave an overview to members regarding the clean-up efforts at Outlook.

Cole began telling Rotary members that the preceding Friday a wind storm had knocked out electrical power and school had been cancelled that day.

Staff members were able to work at the school Saturday, Dec. 16, and throughout the morning Sunday, Dec. 17.

But, at about noon that Sunday the school's fire alarms were triggered.

The Sunnyside Fire Department was able to determine the fire started on the stage, located between the "old gym and the new gym," Cole said.

He told Rotary members the cause has yet to be determined, "But they are going over the stage layer by layer." He said there is every reason to be confident the (four to five) inspectors will determine the cause of the fire.

The fire damaged the old gym completely and everything damaged by the fire fell in toward itself (within the brick walls supporting the gym). Cole said the new gym did not sustain damage from the fire as much as from the water. "It buckled from the water to about four feet high," he said.

The fire was primarily contained within the old gym. However, smoke, soot and water damage was sustained by the four classrooms east of the old gym. Those four classrooms and a teacher's lounge are being cleaned now.

On Dec. 18, the insurance company told the Sunnyside School District "there was a zero percent chance of classes resuming within the school on January third," Cole relayed.

But, the contractor who built the school was on-site and started clean-up immediately. The clean-up process involved several organizations, including Yakima County inspectors.

Ozone (a high concentration of oxygen) was pumped into the school to destroy any smoke molecules. "We were mostly concerned about the library and the smell that might be on the books," Cole said of the skepticism about the effectiveness of the clean-up process. "But, there is not a hint of a smell," he noted.

On Jan. 2, a meeting was held with staff members at Outlook Elementary School. The meeting allowed staff to tour the school and to see how well the process was actually progressing. Staff members were informed they would be able to return to their classrooms on Jan. 3.

Cole referred to those involved in the clean-up as the district's "Christmas Angels."

Students and staff members were able to return to Outlook Elementary School Jan. 3, the same day the rest of the students in the school district did after the holiday break, with the exception of the preschool classes and LAC classes. It is expected they will be able to return to Outlook Elementary on Feb. 5.

The clean-up efforts will continue due to some debris and soot that has made its way outside the contained area. "The children go outside to play and they come in dirty," Cole said.

He noted the fire clean-up, rebuilding and everything involved with the fire is completely covered by insurance. The bricks from the old gym are being saved for historical purposes, so former students and staff might have the opportunity to "have a piece of history," Cole said.


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