Sunday 30 April 2017

Students left in limbo as blaze destroys building

Colin Gleeson

More than 100 children have been left without a school after a blaze destroyed their historic building.

Gardai have launched an investigation into the fire yesterday at the Model School on the Dublin Road in Athy, Co Kildare. On first inspection they said the cause was unknown.

Now 110 children and adult outreach students have been left without educational facilities following the destruction of the 159-year-old building. Athy Town Council chairwoman Aoife Breslin said the fire was "a huge blow" to the community.

"There are 110 children in the school and then all those third-level students as well -- I don't know what they're going to do," she said.

"The roof has come in on it so whether the school goes back there or not will be a decision for the school and the relevant authorities. But the house and its structure are largely destroyed."

The fire broke out at 4am yesterday and took eight units of the brigade almost two hours to get under control.

Kildare's chief fire officer Michael Fitzsimons said it was 12 hours after the blaze broke out before they could leave the scene. "It was a fairly big fire and there was a lot of damage done -- the roof was burnt off," he said.

The school's principal Rosalynn Lewis said the facility was "totally gone". "There's still a lot of heavy smoke and the roof is gone," she said.

A house next to the school had to be evacuated for fear the fire would spread, and rush-hour motorists were urged to avoid the area yesterday morning as the plume of smoke affected visibility on the Dublin road.

The building also accommodates the Athy Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS), which is attended by 65 students.

Future

VTOS provides adults with the opportunity to return to learning. It offers a variety of courses for people over 21 who are in receipt of social welfare.

Cliff Jeffers, the rector and also the parent of a 12-year-old boy at the school, said he didn't know what was going to happen in the future.

"The school has been almost completely destroyed -- all of it really," he said. "Anything that wasn't fire-damaged was water-damaged.

"It hasn't been decided what's going to happen yet. There's no school for the moment. Obviously we can't use the building."

A garda spokesman said the scene had been preserved and a technical examination was set to take place.

Irish Independent

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