The rebuilding of Crestline Elementary School is the “most inspiring story in the state of Washington,” the governor told hundreds of people celebrating the school’s reopening Wednesday.
“It’s clear to me, you can burn down a building but you cannot burn down a community’s commitment to its children,” Gov. Jay Inslee said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the gymnasium of the new elementary school.
Not long after Crestline Elementary was destroyed by arson, Washington’s governor asked students what they took away from the traumatic experience.
Payton Rush, then a fourth-grader at the elementary school, raised his hand.
The boy told the governor “We can do hard things” when people work together.
Inslee said Rush inspired him — the governor had “We can do hard things” made into a sign that hangs in his office in Olympia — and many members of the community who attended the ceremony on Wednesday wore red shirts with the mantra.
A three-alarm fire destroyed the school in February 2013, displacing 500 students and 50 staff members and resulting in an estimated $22 million in damage. Within 2 1/2 days, school officials had managed to relocate students to five different elementary schools so they could continue to learn.
The new school was built at the original site on an accelerated construction schedule to ensure it would be ready for teachers to start setting up their classrooms this month.
Wednesday was about returning to the new school and hearing the “Crestline Lions roar,” said Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt.
When news broke the school had been destroyed, the “entire community stood still in shock,” Leavitt said.
“But we stood together and we were only still for a moment,” the mayor said.
The new school has upgraded technology, security and fire-suppression systems, which weren’t required when the original Crestline was built in the 1970s. It has nearly 20,000 more square feet than the old building and resembles Endeavour Elementary.
It may be energy-efficient and built in record time, the governor said, “but we know the heart and soul of this school are the teachers, the counselors, the janitors, the cooks and the administrators.”
Margarita Lazova, who has two children who attended Crestline and another child about to start, said she was ecstatic to have her neighborhood school back.
“It’s beautiful,” the 35-year-old said.
Sarah Blare couldn’t help but beeline it to the new kitchen inside the gymnasium for a quick look. Blare, 74, had worked at Crestline Elementary School serving lunches, cooking food and managing kitchen staff over a span of two decades.
She nodded approvingly at the new facilities.
The community rallied, said Evergreen Public Schools Superintendent John Deeder.
“It’s amazing what a community can do when they come together for a cause.”
The first day of school is Wednesday, Sept. 3.
In an emotional hearing in July, Dylan Mork pleaded guilty to starting the fire. Mork set fire to a coat near the bench next to the school. He thought the fire was out, but the bench caught fire and the flames jumped to the school.