UNIVERSITY LAB SCHOOL FIRE
Complex destroyed in fire at Lab School
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|||Damage to 'such a good school' saddens many|
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Rod Ohira
A raging fire that threw up smoke and flames visible for miles destroyed a 67-year-old wooden building at the University Laboratory School campus.
Fire officials said the blaze yesterday afternoon caused more than $1 million in damage to the charter school's performance and physical education center. Witnesses reported seeing smoke and flames 50 to 60 feet high.
No one was seriously injured, but one firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation and three police officers needed attention for heat exhaustion.
Staring at the flames was a stunned Jim Bukes, the school's athletic director, who reported the fire and alerted others in the L-shaped building after checking on a fire alarm that had gone off.
"It's devastating," Bukes said.
The building housed the Lab School's drama, orchestra, theater, physical education programs and athletic office as well as some University of Hawai'i-Manoa College of Education Curriculum, Research and Development offices.
"Everything we had, all our uniforms and equipment," is gone, Bukes said.
"We lost a lot of memories but things can be replaced. You can't replace people and I'm thankful no one was injured."
Kianna Castillo, a St. Andrew's Priory student who is taking driver's education at the Lab School site, said class ended at 12:30 p.m. but she was in the area when the fire started.
"Flames were coming out of the corner side classroom," Castillo said. "I was like shocked. It was kind of scary."
A.J. Johnson, who lives on Ho'onanea Street about 300 feet from the burning building, was watching the fire from the diamondhead side of the blaze.
He said he was worried about his house, which was in the path of the smoke, "but it seems like they are watering down the roofs over there."
Ho'onanea Street and part of Metcalf Street were closed to traffic. Police supervised a voluntary evacuation of residents of the Ho'onanea Street area.
Detective Gary Lahens said about 30 people left 15 homes because of the smoke, but returned by early evening. The Red Cross offered to set up a shelter, but no one took up the offer.
"I'm sure we're going to be smoked out all of our clothes," said Johnson, who had 3-year-old son, Ayden, against his shoulder.
Damage is expected to top $1 million, said Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Kenison Tejada. Cause of the fire is under investigation.
Firefighters responded to a 3:48 p.m. alarm at Metcalf Street near Ho'onanea Street, initially reported as a brushfire but corrected almost immediately to a building fire. The fire was called "under control" at 6:09 p.m. although flames were still visible.
A northeast to southwest breeze blew thick, black smoke toward McCully. But from a strategic standpoint, the fire spreading along the top of the building posed more of a problem for firefighters than the wind.
"The fire got up to ceiling attic area and ran freely from there because there were no fire stops," said Tejada.
He said firefighters had to be pulled from the building once the ceiling started to collapse. "It's hard when you can't fight it from the inside," he said.
Firefighters were still putting out hot spots at 11 p.m. Tejada said fire investigators will enter the building today to assess the damage and cause.
The school became a Department of Education charter school in 2001, making it eligible to receive funding from the state after years of struggling to stay afloat through the lean years of the University of Hawai'i budget. The school had lost its entire operation budget before becoming a charter school.
Lab School students from kindergarten through 12th grade participate in a curriculum experiment that has won national and international acclaim over the years. Faculty members develop and test course work on the students at the school before publishing curriculum and textbooks for outside distribution.
Students are not accepted on the basis of good grades, but are chosen so that there will be a socioeconomic, ethnic and academic mix. That selection criteria was expanded to include special-needs children when it joined the DOE.
In the past, the Lab School has reported receiving 1,200 applications for every 60 slots.
The school officially changed its name a few years ago to Educational Laboratory School when it became a charter school but is better known as University Laboratory School, said interim principal Peter Estomago. It is operated by the College of Education's Curriculum, Research and Development Group. The school's enrollment is 420, kindergarten through 12th grade, said Don Young, director of the Curriculum, Research and Development Group.
Estomago said summer school will continue today, and officials will find new locations for classes. Yesterday was first day of summer session, which is being run by the CRDG, and the building that burned was being used for classes that included driver education.
Bukes, a Lab School faculty member for 20 years, was in his corner office on the diamondhead side of the building when the fire started. He heard the fire alarm go off but thought it was just a test. When the ringing didn't stop, Bukes went to check and smelled smoke.
He called the vice principal in another building before going down the main hall to investigate. Bukes said he saw the fire coming out of the drama room at the end of the hallway and ran back to his office to alert the vice principal. He then went back to the hallway, grabbed a trash can and filled it with water from a nearby restroom with hopes to dousing the fire.
"The fire was outside the door and by the time I came out (of the restroom) there just too much smoke," Bukes said. "So I ran back and yelled fire to get people out (of the office wing). I went back to my office, grabbed the high school checkbook and money and got out."
Young was with Bukes when they left the athletic office.
He said the school had just spent $50,000 refurbishing its orchestra instruments and the loss of "precious" instruction space puts the small school in a difficult situation.
"But I'm very, very relieved no one was in the building. ... The material things can be replaced," Young said.
Added UH-Manoa chancellor Denise Konan, "This is a tremendous loss for the campus. I'm incredibly thankful for the Fire Department's quick response."
The gutted building is the second oldest on the 15-acre UH site between Metcalf and Dole streets bordered by University Avenue and Ho'onanea Street. Wist Hall near University Avenue is the oldest building on the site, according to Young.
"Our performing arts, PE and athletic departments don't have a facility now and they are a big part of our curriculum," Estomago said.
Reach Rod Ohira at firstname.lastname@example.org.