To say this is terrible is an understatement.
Oakland school sustains damage in possible arson
Firefighters get the blaze under control in about 45 minutes
By Katy Murphy, STAFF WRITER
Article Last Updated: 03/28/2007 08:24:45 AM PDT
OAKLAND — A possible arson fire tore through the once-serene courtyard of Peralta Elementary School late Monday night, damaging parts of the office, library and adjacent classrooms and possibly canceling school for the rest of the week.
No one was injured in the 11:45 p.m. blaze, which Capt. Melinda Drayton of the Oakland Fire Department described as "a suspicious fire, possibly arson."
But the destruction to the beloved school between Alcatraz Avenue and 63rd Street felt
deeply personal to the close-knit group of teachers and parents who gathered outside the building Tuesday to survey the damage.
"Who would want to hurt this school?" asked Kathy Rieves, a co-chair of the school's parent-teacher group.
Firefighters had the blaze under control in about 45 minutes, Drayton said, saving all of the portable classrooms. Still, the smoke and flames had already caused an estimated $500,000 in damage to the area near the courtyard.
On Tuesday, school officials asked parents to keep their children at home until the smoke and other toxic chemicals are removed from the campus. All of the district's schools are closed Friday in observance of Cesar Chavez's birthday.
"We will not open the school until it's safe," district administrator Denise Saddler told parents, adding that electricity and heat also would need to be restored before students could return.
Alex Katz, a district spokesman, said staffwere already removing debris and trying to determine how long it would take to repair the school.
About eight of Peralta's 250 children are attending nearby Emerson Elementary, Katz said, but that isn't feasible for everyone.
"We have to repair Peralta as fast as possible because we don't have space anywhere else," he said.
In the meantime, Saddler said, the area will be under a 24-hour watch.
Just hours after hearing the news, some parents and teachers expressed shock, baffled by what appeared to be an attempt to harm the community.
"It's one of those things that makes no sense in the world," said Nicole Aruda, whose child attends the school.
Others said they were impatient to roll up their sleeves and "rebuild" the place that they consider a second home.
"Give us a week," Rieves said. "We're going to be in here — hammers, nails and paint."
E-mail Katy Murphy at email@example.com.
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