Merced's Farmdale campus resilient after classroom fire

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comMay 20, 2013 

— Students are very resilient and adapt easily to change, Kathy Moser believes.

Moser, principal of Farmdale Elementary School in Merced, said her students have demonstrated patience and understanding since a March 26 fire blamed on vandalism extensively damaged one of the classrooms.

Three youths, one a fifth-grader at Farmdale and another who had been expelled from the school, were arrested less than 12 hours after the 1:30 a.m. fire in the special education room.

John Curry, Weaver Union School District superintendent, estimated the loss at $80,000 or more. Moser said repairs could total $150,000 by the time reconstruction is done.

"Our community is very close," Moser said. "You could just feel that the community took (the fire) very personally. Some parents were in tears."

The classroom has been gutted. Repairs are expected to be completed when school resumes in the fall. Insurance will cover the loss.

About 14 special education students from third through fifth grades were displaced by the damage, including the ruin caused when sprinklers doused the blaze.

"It was just horrible," Moser said. "They (the vandals) ransacked everything. Shelves were dumped over. It melted a television set and computer."

Moser credits special education teacher Anelle Kelly for getting repair quotes and doing an inventory of all the damaged equipment. Her students are meeting in an adjoining science laboratory while the repairs are being made.

Curry said the school didn't lose a minute of classroom time. He said luckily the sprinkler system kept the fire from spreading to other rooms.

However, wallpaper and molding in several adjoining rooms had to be replaced.

The vandals were seen at 1:30 a.m. on footage from a video surveillance camera. Graffiti was attributed to one of the youths identified, and Merced police arrested the suspects that day, Curry said.

"There is no quick fix to this," Moser said. "We're all going to be OK. I want to credit Anelle Kelly's chin-up attitude, strength and ability to move forward. We are making it work."

Curry said this was the biggest act of vandalism ever on the campus, which was built seven years ago. He said he was disappointed on two levels — that it happened and that children were out at that hour doing mischief.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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