Crestline returns 'home'

State-of-the-art school awaits students after devastating fire

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



 Photo Gallery: Crestline Elementary School

On Wednesday, Aug. 27, Gov. Jay Inslee will attend the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Crestline. The school was destroyed in a fire in February 2013.

photoClick to enlarge

In the next 10 days, all K-12 students in Clark County will head back to school for another year of learning. Nowhere is their excitement likely to be more palpable than at Crestline Elementary School in Vancouver.

On Feb. 3, 2013, Crestline students stood across the street and watched as their school was destroyed by flames. Students, parents, teachers and neighbors huddled together that Sunday morning with expressions of disbelief. Some cried. Others hugged. They’d later learn the cause was arson.

As crews rebuilt Crestline, its 500 students and 50 staff were sent to other schools and then got their own temporary school. They became skilled at packing, moving and unpacking.

If You Go

• What: Dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

• When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27.

• Where: Crestline Elementary School, 13003 S.E. Seventh St., Vancouver.

• Details: Gov. Jay Inslee will attend. Tours of the school will be offered.

But now, Crestline staff has unpacked for the last time.

Excitement reverberated through Crestline Elementary on Wednesday as teachers, staff and volunteers unpacked boxes of books, organized classrooms and prepared to open a brand new school.

Music teacher Steve Moebs, 59, stood on the stage, his classroom at the new school, as the volunteers unpacked xylophones and other instruments and placed them in cabinets. In the original Crestline, his music classroom was a double portable with some equipment dating to the school’s opening in 1973. The new music room is a stage engineered for acoustics. A black curtain wraps around to hide the classroom space and turn it into theater space.

Crestline Elementary

The original school

• Address: 13003 S.E. Seventh St., Vancouver.

• Opened Aug. 29, 1973.

• 43,995 square feet, plus 7,840 square feet in portables.

• One-story building; similar design as Riverview Elementary.

• Destroyed by arson Feb. 3, 2013.

• First catastrophic loss of a school in Evergreen Public Schools’ 67-year history.

The new school

• Built on original site on Seventh Street.

• Opening Sept. 3.

• 60,656 square feet, plus 3,136 square feet in two portable classrooms.

• Two stories; similar design as Endeavour Elementary.

• State-of-the-art with 40 security cameras, a fire-suppression system and lockdown buttons.

“This is our fourth teaching space in less than two years,” said Moebs, who stored boxes of teaching materials at his house last year. “This is the end of the line. Our final unpacking. This is the music room I intend to retire from.”

The fire, though tragic, had a silver lining, he added.

“Out of every tragedy comes a great opportunity,” Moebs said. “Now we can give these kids a state-of-the-art school.”

On the second floor, kindergarten teacher Pam Knowles organized her classroom with Van, her 3-month-old son, strapped to her chest. Her daughter, Hadley, 2, played nearby.

Like the rest of the classrooms, the kindergarten classroom has ample windows for natural light. The room has its own bathroom. That’s essential for full-day kindergarten, where the call of nature comes often and urgently to 5-year-olds.

“We’re so grateful,” Knowles said. “Since the fire, we have not been without. The community has been so generous. We were able to get through this with our kids and show them you can get through hard times. We’re excited to keep moving forward.”

Melanie Quinn is beginning her fifth year as an instructional coach at Crestline. Her primary job is training and equipping teachers. But that changed after the fire, when she drove to the five temporary host schools, delivering teaching materials for Crestline’s displaced students and staff.

“I was triage,” she said. “We were in transition, either packing or unpacking, and always in a state of flux. It’s unsettling. It works on you physically and mentally.”

The many transitions have been tough on the kids and families, too. Already students and their parents have stopped by the school office to say hello and ask if they can lend a hand.

Nodding toward the front of the school, Quinn said, “It will be so nice seeing kids walking and riding their bikes to school. We’re home!”