VANCOUVER, Wash. – Crestline Elementary students, whose school was destroyed by a massive fire early Sunday morning, will return to class on Thursday at one of five different Vancouver elementary schools, the district announced Monday afternoon.
The students will be sent to one of the following schools:
- Kindergarten students will go to Mill Plain Elementary School.
- Students in the first grade will go to Ellsworth Elementary School.
- Second graders will go to Columbia Valley Elementary School.
- Third graders and students in the Academic Learning Center (ALC) will go to Riverview Elementary School.
- Fourth and fifth graders will go to Fircrest Elementary School.
Students will remain with their current teachers and classmates, according to Evergreen Public Schools spokeswoman Carol Fenstermacher. Students who rode the bus to Crestline will be picked up from their usual bus stops, but five minutes earlier.
Those who did not ride the bus to Crestline but will need to ride it to a new school will be contacted by the district about a pick-up location. Students will all be taken to Mountain View High School where they will then board a bus for their specific school.
District leaders met Monday to figure out how to divide the 500 students among the district’s other schools, which were already crowded.
Fenstermacher said the students will remain in their new schools for the remainder of the school year.
Crestline students were home Monday. Counseling and meals were available for students in need at the nearby East Vancouver Community Church.
"I think it really hasn't finally settled in for most people at this point," said Evergreen Public Schools social worker Wendy Silverthorne. "It was such a big shock to everyone."
Siverthorne said it's perfectly normal for young kids to grieve during a loss like this, and it's important for parents to be good listeners.
"Make sure they're eating OK, sleeping OK, that they're not overly upset," she said.
Unlike Portland students who were displaced by the Marysville School fire in 2009, Crestline students do not have a vacant school in their district where they could resume classes.
The cause of the fire is unclear. Vancouver Fire Department Capt. Scott Willis said the fire is being treated as suspicious.
Someone called 911 to report flames at the school just after 3 a.m. Sunday. Vancouver Fire Department spokesman Kevin Stromberg said the building is a total loss.
Investigators entered the rubble Monday to look for what started the three-alarm fire. They said it will be at least a week before they know the cause.
Crestline teacher Audrey Christina told KATU News that she saw kids lighting fireworks near the school Saturday night.
“And then I came back in and some of my neighbors told me they continued to hear fireworks at 3 o'clock this morning,” said Christina, who lives across the street from the burned school.
“My first thought was ‘what are we going to do with all the children?’”
Students, parents and teachers flocked to Crestline all day Sunday to see what remained of their school.
“The first thing I think of is all their stuff,” said Crestline teacher Mary Krzysiak, whose son Josh attended the school. “Everything on those walls. Everything in their books and bags. It’s so much more than desks and chairs. It’s their lives.”
Crestline teacher Deborah Grams was philosophical about the loss. “Well, the school is gone, but the school is just the physical,” Grams said. “What really makes the school is all the teachers and all the kids. So I say, school's gone but we're still here.”
“It’s burnt, not broken,” said Crestline fourth grader Kendra Short. “And on the bright side, no one got hurt, and no one’s dead.”
The 40-year-old school had sprinklers in every room, and in the attic, according to Stromberg, who on Sunday told KATU the attic did not have sprinklers. There were not any sprinklers, however, in the school's overhanging roof, which covered the entire school. That's where the fire quickly spread, Stromberg said.
KATU called several local school districts to ask if they had any schools in similar situations. A spokesperson with Portland Public Schools said among the district's 95 functioning school buildings, eight have full sprinkler systems (including sprinklers in the attics), 52 have partial systems and 35 have no sprinklers at all.
Fenstermacher said Evergreen has fire insurance that will cover the damage. There's no dollar estimate of the loss, but Fenstermacher expects it will be in the millions.
If you'd like to make a donation to Evergreen Public Schools to help replace school supplies, you can call 360-604-4088.
Cash donations and school supplies are also being accepted at two Vancouver Burgerville locations:
The restaurants are also planning fundraisers to replace school supplies.
KATU's Lincoln Graves, Dan Tilkin and The Associated Press contributed to this story.