BANDON — Harbor Lights Middle School and its students are recovering from an arson fire set by a student on Saturday, Sept. 28, that could have burned the school's gym building down.
Thanks to Dave Williams of Pacific Coast Restoration of Coos Bay, who put double-crews on the job Sunday morning following the fire who worked almost around the clock for more than a week, the gym is now ready to be used for regular daily PE classes, as well as volleyball practice and games and the upcoming basketball season.
"These guys go above and beyond," said Joseph Bain of Bain Insurance, the school district's agent. "The gym and restrooms were scrubbed top to bottom and they worked all weekend to get it done. They're doing a great job."
Pacific Coast Restoration is the contractor that cleaned the Sprague Theater following smoke damage there earlier this year.
Despite $350,000 in smoke damages to the HLMS gym building (so far), the district will only pay its $1,000 deductible, Bain said.
Firefighters had to punch a hole in the gym's roof to let the heat from the fire out, so that still needs to be repaired, Bain said, and some duct cleaning remains, but the rest of that area of the building's cleanup is complete.
The music room and the boys locker room are still closed, however. The music room needs to be scrubbed and the instruments in the band room will need cleaning. The boys locker room will need major repairs. Bids are being sought for the work needed in those rooms and the work and cleanup there could take up to two months.
"Those will take longer," Bain said.
Bandon Schools Superintendent Doug Ardiana said the HLMS football equipment destroyed in the fire also was covered by insurance.
"The school district is going to get the team what they need," Ardiana said.
Following the news about the football gear, community members stepped up to help. The Bandon Booster Club pledged $500 and the Broken Anchor held a guest bartending event to raise funds. Ardiana said the district appreciates the donations, but they should go directly to the Booster Club, which supports all the extracurricular activities in the district, from the bands to speech and sports teams.
Music classes are being held in empty classrooms in the fifth- and sixth-grade wing of the building. Ardiana said the classrooms are empty after he moved the sixth-graders into the main building last year.
"Because of the shuffle, we had open classrooms so Mrs. (Holly) Sylvester (HLMS music director), moved there," he said.
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HLMS students are dealing well with the stress of the situation, Ardiana added.
"The students have responded very appropriately and positively," he said. "Fortunately, no one was hurt and our kids have been great. I couldn't be prouder of they way they've been so resilient."
Ardiana said he is also grateful for the support from firefighters, police, other school districts and the outpouring of help and concern from the community.
"For a bad situation, we couldn't have come out with a better result," he said.
At 8:08 the evening of the fire, emergency personnel from the Bandon Police Department and Bandon Fire Department were dispatched to a structure fire at the school, located at 390 Ninth St. SW, after a passer-by saw the flames and called 9-1-1.
According to Bandon Fire Chief Lanny Boston, the fire department arrived with three rigs and two fire engines, along with 18 firefighters at about 8:15 p.m. Boston said he saw "visible small flames" and smoke coming out of the roof vents of the gym and on the southeast side of the building, where the boys locker room is located.
It appears the fire started in a storage room in the boys locker room. No injuries were reported, but all of the HLMS football team's gear was destroyed in the fire and the music room and gymnasium suffered smoke damage.
Due to the suspicious nature of the fire, detectives from the Oregon State Police Arson Unit were requested to assist with the investigation, according to a press release from Oregon State Police.
A joint investigation was conducted involving OSP and the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bandon Police Department and Bandon Fire Department. Members of the Harbor Lights Middle School staff cooperated with and assisted in the investigation.
The investigation revealed that two fires were intentionally set at the school, the press release stated. Bandon Fire Chief Lanny Boston said if his crew had been just 30 minutes later, the entire gymnasium would have gone up in flames.
Only one fire caused severe damage to the school, but didn’t prohibit the school from holding classes that Monday. The majority of the structural damage was in the boys locker room and damaged all of the HLMS football team equipment.
A juvenile male, who attended the school, was identified and admitted to setting the fires, according to OSP. The school was notified of the investigation's results and is planning to take appropriate administrative action. The investigation will also be sent to the Coos County District Attorney’s Office for potential criminal charges.