Courtesy of JAMIE HOCHHEIMER
Livonia Superintendent Scott Bischoping (left) helps load school supplies donated by Wegmans for transport back to the RJ Connell building.
Livonia teachers prepare for school after July 5 fire
On July 5, roofing material on top of Livonia Elementary School caught fire from a faulty generator — causing a roaring blaze to break out across the top of the fourth and fifth grade classrooms. As firefighters doused the blaze with thousands of gallons of water, other classrooms suffered further damage — including the loss of teaching materials and personal items.
“I was in disbelief after I heard about it on the news,” said Paula Greenman, a fifth grade teacher whose room suffered extensive damage.
“I thought things would be salvageable,” continued Greenman, “but the water, smoke and mold damage was really surprising.”
A week after the fire, once the building had been declared free of hazardous materials, school administators allowed teachers back in to assess the damage done to their classrooms — and to find out if anything accumulated over their teaching careers had survived.
“When I was finally able to get in there, and saw how little was left, I was overwhelmed,” said Pam Leader, a 32 year veteran of Livonia schools.
“I just didn’t know how we were going to get ready for our next class of students. We had all lost so much.”
Personal effects and school supplies aside, perhaps the most irreplaceable things lost were the “extras” collected over years that add to the basic curriculum — items such as ash from Mt. Saint Helens, a rock from Mt. Vesuvius, the sombrero brought back from Mexico.
Teaching aids are painful enough to lose, but other irreplacable items are what really haunts the minds of the of Livonia’s fifth grade teachers.
“I had cards and notes from thankful students and parents,” said Paula Greenman. “I’ll never be able to get those back.”
“I had a personal library of books signed by their authors,” said fifth grade teacher Jacquie Bonadonna.
“I had pictures from 25 years of different classes. If I could get one thing back, those pictures would be it.”
With items of such sentimental value, Livonia administrators were placed in a difficult position.
Fueled by a desire to save as much as possible for their teachers, there was nevertheless a need to be sure that the things being salvaged did not pose any health risks to teachers or future students.
“I’m very happy with how the cleanup process was handled,” said Bonadonna.
“Scott Bischoping and the administrative team have handled this situation with a lot of respect for our feelings and needs.” “They have made it clear from the beginning that they are here to do whatever they can to support us in moving forward,” Leader added.
While the fire cannot be said to be anything other than a highly unwanted and disastrous event, the outpouring of support from the community has been tremendous. It would perhaps be easier to list the local businesses that did not come out in support of their local school.
McDonald’s on West Henrietta Road will hold a benefit to raise money for the elementary school on Aug, 17 from 5 to 7 pm. Wegmans donated over five palettes of school supplies including everything from paper products to art supplies, and pens and pencils to organizing containers.
Michael’s Arts and Crafts offered teachers 35 percent off for an entire week of shopping, and the Livonia Public Library is offering teachers priority access to their annual summer book sale, ensuring that students will have books to read come the new school year.
“These shows of support are really wonderful,” said Deb Haefele, newly appointed interim principal. “It’s incredible how everyone has come out and said “We’ll do this for you, or we’ll do that for you.””
“It’s encouraging and uplifting to know that we’re not in this alone,” said Greenman. “A grandmother of a former student, who recently retired from teaching, offered me her book club points to restock my classroom library,” added Leader. “That’s just one example of the kind of far reaching support we are receiving.”
Fourth and fifth grade classes will return to the RJ Connell building for the new school year, with an anticipated return date to the current elementary school set for Veteran’s Day Weekend.
Deb Haefele, who retired following the 2010 school year, will return in order to ensure that the transition to the RJ Connell building and eventually back to the elementary school will run as smoothly as possible.
“I wouldn’t have come back for anyone other than these teachers,” said Haefele. “It’s such a relief to have Deb,” said Greenman. “Her gift of encouragement is making all the difference.”
Fourth and fifth graders is returning to the building that they vacated only a year ago. It is lucky however that the building is available at all.
“I’m just relieved to have a place to go,” said Bonadonna. “A lot of districts don’t even have that option open to them.”
“Our job is to make sure that the students who come to our classrooms on the first day of school feel comfortable,” said Greenman.