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Fire consumes classroom at Navajo Heights School

The fire-gutted classroom (above) and the damaged hallway (below) at Navajo Heights School, where a blaze broke out Monday morning before students and staff arrived.

Photos courtesy of the Police Heights Police Department

 

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Fire broke out Monday morning in a 5th grade classroom at Navajo Heights School in Palos Heights, destroying the room and its contents but causing no injuries to students or staff.

Navajo, at 12401 S. Oak Park Ave. in Palos Heights, had not yet opened for the day when the fire occurred. Flames were spotted through a window by John Meier, the first-shift custodian, who was clearing snow outside the building. He called 911.

“Everything (the emergency equipment) worked perfectly—the sensor in the classroom, the alarm, the strobe lights, the notification to the fire department—but John certainly helped by calling,” said Dr. Dawn Greene, School District 128 superintendent. “Plus, he was there to let everyone in, to point to exactly where it was, in sub-zero wind-chill temperatures, I might add.”

The blaze was reported at approximately 6:40 a.m. It was struck out in about 30 minutes, according to Chief Tim Sarhage of the Palos Heights Fire Protection District.

The fire was confined to a single classroom but the 5th grade wing of the school where the classroom is located suffered heavy smoke damage, said Sarhage in a media report. The origin of the fire is under investigation.

In the destroyed classroom, the loss included furniture, books, an overhead projector, iPads and other electronic devices, said the superintendent.

Navajo School will be closed until at least early next week, she said. Navajo students are being accommodated at other schools in the district.

“Starting at 9 a.m. tomorrow, they’re going to be going at it, hard,” Green said late Tuesday afternoon about the repair crews.

“From Wednesday until whenever it takes,” she said. “If it’s not Monday (when the building can be occupied again) it’s OK because what I know is that we respond quite well in emergency situations—our students, our staff, our parents.

“I’ve emphasized over and over again, to our insurance company, to two different restoration companies we’ve talked to, that yes, we want to be back in the building as quickly as we can, but before that we want it to be safe. No smell of smoke or any of that.”

Green said she got the call about the fire at 7 a.m. from Officer Kevin Apostale of the Palos Heights Police Department.

“I missed the call; he left me a message,” Green said. “I called the police department, they affirmed that information and I began calling my principal at Navajo and the other principals.”

District 128 has four schools: Navajo Heights, Independence Junior High, Chippewa Elementary and Indian Hill. Displaced Navajo 5th grade students are currently being accommodated at Independence. Navajo 4th graders are attending Chippewa.

“I was shocked at the level of damage,” said the superintendent. “I’ve never been that close to fire damage before.”

Green said she spent the entire day Monday at the school, most of the time with staff in the fire department’s mobile command vehicle.

“We’re not 100 percent sure, but it looks like some fluky thing,” she said about the origin of the fire. “We know where but we don’t know why. We’re still waiting for that. I’ve been assured by our insurance company and the investigators that there’s been no foul play.”

Green said that shifting the Navajo students to Independence and Chippewa required “some moving around. Some teachers (at the receiving schools) had to give up their rooms. They held their classes in the common areas, in the library.

“We’ve made it work,” she said. “We’re using the music room, we’re using the art room. There’s been a lot of juggling. Our staff is fantastic. Not only those who are being impacted, the 4th and 5th grade teachers, but also those who welcomed them with open arms.”

“The Navajo principal, Lynn Adamonis, has been phenomenal,” said Green. “She’s handled it great, just how positive she’s been. Our teachers, our administrators, different people who took over and who all helped out tremendously.”

“Our students, our staff and our parents have just been fantastic,” said Green. “I’ve not heard one negative thing about an inconvenience here, a difficulty there.”

The superintendent also praised the Parent-Faulty Association.

“Whatever the kids and the teachers need, come to us and we’ll get it for them,” Green said she was told by the PFA.

“The number of parents who have emailed me, offering money for books, money for iPads—it’s a huge reminder of how supportive and compassionate and caring the kind of community we have, willing to help out however they can,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

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