RISING FROM THE ASHES
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Students walked past the charred remains of a building that was burned down over the summer as UH Lab School resumed classes yesterday.
Lab School's recovery under way
The band has no instruments and classes are like musical chairs, but spirit remains strong after a devastating fire
He had a roomful of eager students in his orchestra class and plans for a November concert, but there will be no music emanating from teacher Kevin Olafsson's room at the UH Lab School for a while.
All of the charter school's musical instruments were among the property destroyed in a June fire that engulfed one of its buildings, and replacements have yet to arrive as classes resumed yesterday with the campus still in recovery mode.
"It's so sad. We had so many good memories in that building. And now we don't have our instruments, so we can't get ready for the concert," said Samira Fatemi, a ninth-grader.
The charred ruins of the burned-out, 20,000-square-foot building still dominate one corner of the campus, a vivid reminder of the fire that consumed the school's music and physical education programs, including its collections of musical instruments, school uniforms and athletic equipment, and destroyed several offices.
Still, students and staff put on a brave if sometimes puzzled face yesterday as classes resumed.
Several class locations have been switched around in a sort of musical chairs aimed at accommodating the displaced physical education, music and drama classes.
A choir class met yesterday in the school's cafeteria. Fourth- and fifth-graders have been moved from the relatively sheltered world of the elementary buildings to the same building as upperclassmen.
The halls rang at times with the shouts of teachers trying to redirect confused students, but Principal Peter Estomago liked what he saw from his "resilient" kids.
"Everything's pretty normal. We're accommodating everybody well, and the students are back and hitting the books," he said.
True normalcy, however, will not begin to return to the 75-year-old school for weeks, perhaps months, in the form of new equipment and four portable classrooms that have been ordered.
The school's new band equipment -- only a single cello survived the fire -- could come as early as September. Estomago is hoping the portables will arrive before the Christmas break.
But school spirit has been buoyed by the outpouring of support that followed the fire, Estomago said. The school's alumni association has raised more than $100,000, and tens of thousands more have come in from university fundraising and other sources.
Other schools have donated wrestling mats and other equipment, and the University of Hawaii will open its weight room to the school's weight-training class.
"When you get that kind of support, it tells you the Lab School is a special place," Estomago told one of four student assemblies yesterday. "We need to continue that."
Olafsson's students, relocated to another part of the campus, will be among those sacrificing for the time being.
They will kill time on music theory and appreciation -- and regular fire drills, Olafsson promises -- until the precious instruments arrive. Then they'll have to "kick butt" to get ready for their fall concert, he says, adding a statement that could serve as a school motto for this year.
"I'm going to be asking you all for a little more effort," he said.