ANTIGUA – Arson suspected
Administration building of school destroyed by fire
ST JOHN’S –– Officials investigating a fire that destroyed the administrative building of the All Saints Secondary School (ASSS), on the weekend, suspect that it was intentionally set during the early hours of Saturday morning.
Head of the Fire Department, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Elvis Weaver, disclosed that evidence found at the scene by investigators suggested that “somebody was deliberately trying to set a fire. We’ve seen areas where papers were burnt”.
Weaver told Observer: “We found evidence of somebody trying to light fires in another classroom and even a bathroom. The police and the fire investigators are carrying out their investigations.”
The blaze, which gutted the administration building between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., also damaged at least two other buildings.
Weaver said the inferno was so intense that responders from the All Saints Fire Station, who were first on scene, had to call for assistance.
“When they got here it was a bit overwhelming for them so they called for backup and the St John’s Fire Station responded with their two fire engines,” Weaver said.
With the combined effort, the blaze was under control by 7 a.m., but “hardly anything had been saved”.
“We’re not ruling out anything. It could be electrical; it could be arson, anything,” the assistant commissioner added.
The real impact of the event could be seen on the face of onlookers who were mostly staff of the school. Disbelief, sadness and shock, and anxiety were all etched on their faces as they beheld the smouldering husk of the building they once occupied.
Decades’ worth of records and administrative materials were destroyed –– records which would have been housed on campus since the school’s inception in 1963 to the present, including, student transcripts, report cards, CXC results and certificates, attendance records, registration files, teaching material, textbooks, School-Based Assessments (SBAs) and countless other documents.
Filing cabinets removed from the burnt husk of the administrative building, laid on the lawn for all to see, valuable documents within still on fire.
One teacher, who did not wish to be named, described the effect of the fire. “It’s a tragedy for us and a big setback. Also, it’s a legacy being lost –– over 50 years’ worth of records being gutted by fire,” he said.
He said that the “tragedy” was cause for the digitization of school records.
“We should move to a better way of keeping our records –– electronically,” he said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Education Michael Browne said work would begin on a new structure as soon as fire officials gave the “all-clear”.
“We’re waiting on the police, firefighters and the investigators to finish their work so we can assess the damage and the loss. The Board of Education will determine how quickly we can begin to clean and make accommodations
for alternative placement.”