Years of work up in smoke

Athlone North Primary Schools Grade R classroom was destroyed by fire.

Eight years of hard work and sacrifice were destroyed in a few hours, when Athlone North Primary School’s library, Grade R classroom and minor hall were ravaged by a fire.

The school suspects arson, but Fire and Rescue spokesman Theo Layne says the cause of the fire hasn’t been determined yet and police are investigating.

The fire started at about 1.45am on Monday March 12 and took firefighters about three hours to extinguish. That evening, school security guards caught two men who broke into the charred ruin of the building.

They were handed over to the police. It’s believed they were after metal to sell for scrap, according principal Beverley Daniels.

The building has been condemned and cordoned off.

Ms Daniels said the whole school community was “deeply saddened and shocked by the devastation the fire caused”.

The tuck shop in the building suffered smoke damage, and all the stock had to be thrown away.

Ms Daniels said the staff had worked hard since 2010 to secure a library for the school.

“We received boxes of books donated to us – some came from as far as Australia,” she said.

She continued: “When I started at the school, it did not have a library. When we worked on building the library, we used to store books at local churches. In December last year, the school spent R20000 on new books for the library. We made it our goal to buy the books.”

She said many people had donated money, books and furniture to the library.

“A lot of companies and individuals have given of their time to establish the library. In recent months, we have observed more and more of our pupils taking a keen interest in reading.

“Some of our pupils have even started to borrow books to read at home because there are no libraries in the area.

“For most, Athlone library is too far and not the safest to get to. We only started implementing a lending system two weeks ago. The programme of the school has been severely disrupted by this fire,” Ms Daniels said.

The Grade R pupils are now being taught in the staff room.

The Western Cape Education Department said it did not know the extent of the damage, but it could take up to six months to fix the building.

Ms Daniels said she suspected the entire building would have to be rebuilt.

“We installed computers in the library, and we had planned to switch them on on Monday March 12 – only to come to this: ashes. But we will rise. We had a parent meeting, and it was so good. Many of the parents asked for donation letters to take to their employers.

“Our children have been robbed of a vital teaching and learning resource and it is going to take a big effort from all our stakeholders, like the WCED, local businesses, non-government organisations, companies, communities, teachers and pupils, to work together to restore the school back to the way it was before the fire.

“However, the school can only provide effective learning and teaching to the children if the community takes ownership and protects the school from this type of vandalism and wanton destruction.”