Fire destroyed offices and six classrooms early Saturday in A Building, the oldest at century-old Kalaheo Elementary.

Donated supplies
pour in for school

Kauai volunteers help Kalaheo
Elementary as police investigate
a puzzling weekend fire

When classes resume tomorrow after a devastating fire in the main building at Kalaheo Elementary School, students and teachers who lost belongings will be given brand-new school supplies courtesy of the Poipu Rotary Club.

It's part of what Kalaheo Principal Erik Burkman describes as an "amazing" outpouring of support for the century-old school.

"Everyone wants to help out. It's been a real blessing," Burkman said. "I have an army of volunteers at my disposal."

The principal said people were volunteering to help at Kauai Christian Fellowship Church, which he attended yesterday, and at nearby Kalaheo Missionary Church, right around the corner from the school.

One group of parents volunteered to make new wooden mailboxes for the teachers. Others will be working at the school today to repair minor damage and cut down trees burned by the fire.

Because yesterday was Mother's Day and a Sunday, Burkman said he told people to take the day off as the school decides what is needed.

Classes at Kalaheo Elementary were canceled today, and the school will reopen tomorrow.

Police have opened an investigation into the cause of the 3 a.m. Saturday fire, which destroyed the administrative offices and six classrooms in A Building. So far, police and fire investigators have not said if they think the fire was intentionally set.

However, police are asking anyone who might have seen anything suspicious Saturday night to call lead detective Michael Gordon at 241-1683 with any information.

A witness said clothes that appeared to be from the school's lost-and-found were strung up the flagpole when the fire broke out.

Damage estimates were not available yesterday, but the wooden, tin-roof plantation-era building was destroyed. Heavy equipment was brought in yesterday to clear the rubble.

Burkman said the U-shaped building, with a lanai running around it, surrounded a courtyard and was the heart of the school. The building is the oldest structure on the campus, which just celebrated its centennial last year.

Some of the classrooms and portables around A Building suffered some minor damage, but firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading Saturday.

A similar fire destroyed an administration building at Wilcox Elementary School in Lihue in March 2003. Arson was suspected as the cause of that fire.

Stephanie Rogers, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Kalaheo, said the school is a big part of the small Kauai community.

"We've got like one stoplight and one strip mall. The school is sort of the center, socially at least, the center of the community," she said. Because it has been there for more than 100 years, "everybody went through that school. Everybody's been a part of the school or knows someone who is a part of the school."

Rogers said an information table will be set up at the school today so that parents can get questions answered about where their kids will be tomorrow.

When school resumes tomorrow, Burkman said smaller classes will double up to free up rooms, but every student will have a place to go.

About 100 of the 480 kindergarten to fifth-grade students at the school were affected by the fire. The burned classrooms were used by fourth- and fifth-graders and by special-needs students, said Daniel Hamada, Kauai complex superintendent.

"Both of my girls lost their classrooms," Rogers said.

One of her daughters cried when she found some papers from her class yesterday because it brought up memories of the classroom, Rogers said.

But she said both girls appear to be coping.

Extra counselors from other schools are coming tomorrow in case students need help coping with the loss, Burkman said.

An assembly is planned in the morning to welcome the students back and "let them know we're a team and a family," Burkman said.

But Burkman is confident the day will go well with the support of the community, parents and volunteers.

"The students are going to learn a lesson that people can come together and help people in need," he said. "It's a real powerful object lesson for our students, a lifelong lesson."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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