Third-grader Kalen Soares, foreground, with grandmother Jeanette Matsumura and cousin Bryan Buriki, surveys the work completed at Kalaheo School since a fire in May destroyed a historical building. A replacement building is planned for completion in 2007.

Destroyed school
set to reopen

Trailers will serve for now as
Kalaheo Elementary, leveled
by arson in May


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

» Fire destroyed the administration building at Kalaheo Elementary School on Kauai in May. A headline and a sub-headline on Page A3 in Monday's morning edition incorrectly stated that the entire school was destroyed.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at corrections@starbulletin.com.

KALAHEO, Kauai » When students return to Kalaheo Elementary School on Thursday, they won't walk through the halls of the U-shaped building that used to sit at the heart of the campus.

There isn't even a trace of the former landmark anymore; it's been replaced by a concrete patch and a U-shaped set of trailers, a powerful reminder that an arson fire destroyed part of the school on May 7.

The main building, which used to house six classrooms and the administrative offices, was destroyed in a fire allegedly set by a 12-year-old girl. The fire caused about $250,000 in damage to the campus on the south side of Kauai.

Since the fire, contractors and construction workers, parents, teachers and administrators have been busy getting the school ready for opening day.

"It's been a very busy summer, but it's been good," said Kalaheo School Principal Erik Burkman last week. "It's been a construction site. We're trying to get it spruced up for the kids."

As the finishing touches were put on the trailers, a covered walkway that was damaged and to the landscaping around the school, Burkman said the only remnant of the former building at the 80-year-old school will be an American flag that somehow survived the blaze a bit singed. It is being framed and will be displayed in the new administrative offices.

"It's an artifact, part of the school's history," Burkman said, adding that the flames did not spare other artifacts and records. Yet the school will be ready for classes Thursday, Burkman said.

"We'll be ready to go," he said. The Department of Education "is eager to replace what we lost."

He added that he has been impressed with the work that has been done.

"I'm amazed at the level of craftsmanship" on the trailers, he said. "Everything's been caulked, (painted), hurricane-strapped. They've been built to last for another 80 years."

That won't be necessary, though. Department of Education officials expect to start construction on a new administration building, with a completion date in early 2007.

While police believe a group of kids were doing mischief at the time of the fire, the 12-year-old girl detained in June for her part in the fire has not spoken to police about anyone else involved, and no further arrests have been made, police sources said.

Since she is a minor, she will be tried in Family Court, which is closed to the public. Prosecutors could not say even whether the case has been adjudicated.

The fire sparked a huge response in the community, though, which helped get the school up and running within a few days.

Other elementary schools donated what they could, and local businesses donated supplies as well.

For students returning to school, there will be a "lasting effect, (with) the lessons learned about the community coming together, flexibility, finishing the job at hand despite obstacles," Burkman said.

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