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Poplar Bluff school to reopen Monday after Thursday's campus fire

Sunday, September 7, 2008

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Mark Twain Kindergarten Center will be crowded when it reopens Monday, as the district makes room for more than 120 additional students in the campus's main building.

Early Thursday morning, fire destroyed four modular buildings previously used to house those students.

The origin of the fire is undetermined, said deputy police chief Jeff Rolland, but investigators do not believe a criminal element was involved.

"The arson dog did not indicate on any area for an accelerant," Rolland said.

Fire investigators are still looking at a couple of things and have not released the scene yet, he said. Authorities interviewed more than 20 school personnel and neighbors of the school Thursday.

"This will be a six-figure loss to the district," said associate superintendent Clint Johnston. "But we have all of the classes restructured and we'll be ready to receive kids on Monday."

With so much lost, from the buildings to materials like desks, superintendent Ernie Lawson said it is impossible to put a more specific cost estimate on the damage.

The library, art room and music room will be used as regular classrooms for now, Johnston said. The librarian, art teacher and music teacher will go into the students' classrooms to teach.

Normal class sizes of 20 to 22 students will be increasing to 26 to 28 students throughout the campus.

Three teachers and one aide have been assigned to two classrooms.

"We have teacher assignments taken care of and they are working diligently to get ready," Johnston said. "This will [last] until we can make repairs. We have to allow the investigation to be completed, and once they are done we can move forward."

Students will be able to stay with their original teachers, said school board president Hardy Billington.

Items have been pulled from around the district to replace supplies lost in the seven burned classrooms, special education room and two offices, Johnston said.

"We had purchased some new equipment and hadn't sold the old equipment, so we had tables and chairs in the district," Johnston said. "It's not perfect, but it will serve our needs. Most of kindergarten works with consumables, so we are doing a lot of copying. We have had some losses in our reading series that will have to be replaced. We're working on taking an inventory now."

A construction barricade will be put in place to separate the kindergarten playground from where work will be done to clean up and replace the burned classrooms.

This will reduce the playground by more than a third, Johnston said, and put at least two of the playground structures inside the off-limits area.

The district hopes to have the damaged buildings removed by the end of next week, said Lawson. The largest of the modular buildings had been on the campus for at least 12 years, while others had been added in the last five to six years.

Administrators are not sure what route will be taken to replace the classrooms.

The district is asking parents to work with staff as they deal with this situation, Johnston said.

"I think we can manage for a short period of time," Lawson said. He said the school's staff is working hard to have the school ready for Monday.

The students who attended classes in the modular building lost all their school supplies, said assistant superintendent Sarah Long.

The district has been contacted by several people offering to help replace those items, she said.

This included Office Depot, recently delivered a donation of more than half of the supplies needed for the students.

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