Students settling in to temporary classrooms

Students at J.W. Walker are settling into their new temporary classrooms this week after an explosion and fire at their school in the early-morning hours of last Thursday.
Fortunately, the fire damage was limited to the gymnasium, with water damage confined to the floors of the lower level of the building, as well as the office and library.
For the time being, however, the couple of hundred students, along with their regular teachers, have been relocated to other schools in town in order to continue to provide a safe learning environment.
Junior Kindergarten, Senior Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 1/2, Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 4/5, Grade 5/6, and Grade 6 students are attending Robert Moore School while the Grade 2 and Grade 2/3 students have been moved to Huffman School.
Meanwhile, classes for the Grade 7, Grade 7/8, and Grade 8 students are being held at Fort Frances High School.
“The students are settling in just fine,” Walker principal Bill Daley noted Monday afternoon. “For a short time, the relocation is not bad.
“It’s kind of an adventure—that’s how the students are looking at it.”
Many of the classes were able to move into rooms that often aren’t utilized at the schools while other classes have taken up residence in the gymnasium.
“The teacher are amazing,” Daley stressed. “They’ve done everything they can to make their areas as welcoming and warm as possible.”
Daley said while the loss of resources at Walker during the explosion and fire was minimal, they weren’t easily at hand in the meantime. But the local Wal-Mart stepped up and donated plenty of school supplies to keep them going.
“We have a big focus on helping the community,” said local Wal-Mart manager Darryl Skinner. “When something like that happens, it’s pretty tragic and hard for a school to get back into the swing of things.
“Their biggest priority was relocating the students. They didn’t need to worry about the little things, like where are we going to get supplies,” Skinner added.
“So being part of the community, we wanted to help out.”
Daley said the teachers from the public board’s three schools (Robert Moore, Huffman, and Fort High) have been very helpful and accommodating.
“We’ve had a lot of support from everyone,” he stressed, noting the Rainy River District School Board and transportation department also have been supportive.
He explained the transportation department had to make adjustments in order to get all the students to their temporary locations. They, along with the Walker teachers, phoned the parents to make sure everyone was aware of the changes.
“We’re just glad no one was hurt,” Daley remarked. “It could have been a lot worse. The damage could have even been more devastating.
“It looks a lot worse than it is.”
Even “Hammy,” the pet hamster in the Grade 2/3 classroom, survived the ordeal at the school.
“We couldn’t go in and check on him, so we assumed if he hadn’t been overcome by the gas fumes, he wouldn’t have been able to survive the cold—but he did,” teacher Angela Petsnick said.
“The kids were just thrilled to hear that news,” she added, noting “Hammy” is taken home by the students on the weekend, so they were very fond of him.
Daley said only one of the classroom fish died as a result of the explosion and fire. He said even the plants survived in the cold weather following the incident.
Meanwhile, the school board’s maintenance department and private contractors have been securing the facility since Friday, Daley added, and working to ready the school for the return of students at the earliest date possible.
“But we don’t have a clear timeline as to when,” he noted, although indicating he hoped it would be ready within weeks, as opposed to months down the road.
“We will keep [parents] informed as to our progress,” Daley pledged. “And we would like to thank everyone for their support and understanding.”