Changed, but still strong, burned Dickinson high school to reopen

2014-08-25T09:30:00Z 2014-08-28T06:53:13Z Changed, but still strong, burned Dickinson high school to reopenBy LAUREN DONOVAN Bismarck Tribune The Billings Gazette
August 25, 2014 9:30 am  • 

DICKINSON, N.D. — The gutted black hole on the front of Dickinson Trinity High School sends a wrong signal for what’s going on inside.

This Catholic-centered high school closed and teachers and students scrambled to buildings around town after an arsonist set a midnight blaze in March that destroyed the school’s administrative hub and damaged everything else.

Principal Thomas Sander was charged with the crime, but the case was dismissed last month after a district court judge said police mishandled his questioning and arrest.

With the legal drama playing out in the background, a miracle of ultra-fast reconstruction occurred at Trinity.

The school will reopen and the faculty and students can again come home.

“We’ll be ready to teach and learn on Monday,” said Steve Glasser, president of Dickinson Catholic Schools. “We’re going to be fine.”

It won’t be the same school they had to desert last spring. One classroom wing remains closed. Administration and some teaching rooms are in modular buildings grafted to the rear of the school. The front office and class hub where the fire was set is being torn down.

The tab just to clean and salvage everything from desks to surviving textbooks is $3 million. Millions more will be shelled out for structural repairs and replacement materials. The school’s showpiece gym and auditorium remain intact.

This week was a scramble to quiet down construction zones and put the place in order.

Kathy Kiedrowski, family science teacher, called on the football team to haul boxes of pots, pans and dishes into her new classroom just off the gymnasium.

“It’s missing a sink, and the cupboards and shelves we stole from all over. We’re making do,” Kiedrowski said.

Mark Veverka, a senior who volunteered his football muscles, unpacked dishes and carefully set them in a cupboard.

“It’ll be nice to finish out my schooling here,” he said. The crazy events of the spring are not such a bad memory for this young man. “It was only for a half year. It wasn’t too bad,” he said.

Rayma Braaten, the head volleyball coach, had just that morning signed a contract to teach three classes of Spanish. A friend — Troy Kuntz, a Dickinson Public Schools teacher — was helping with ideas to make her classroom bright and welcoming.

It’s Braaten’s first teaching job, but she’s been close to Trinity as a coach.

“I can tell we’re all working together to get it all done. I’ll be in here all day and all weekend to get ready,” she said.

Craig Kovash, who teaches religion, health and physical education, said he’s looking forward to being in one school instead of running to three off-site buildings like he did after the fire to get to his students.

He said the school is still a work in progress but even after the trauma of losing lesson plans, books and classrooms overnight, the staff is ready.

“We knew it wouldn’t be forever. Every teacher had to step up. Now we’re really ready to teach. This is really going to be nice for us all to be on one campus,” he said.

Carter Fong, social studies teacher, said he has the same butterflies that he did as a first-year teacher.

“I’m excited. There’s a lot to look forward to,” Fong said.

Glasser said the day after the fire he recognized that with the ordeal ahead was also opportunity.

On Sept. 9 and 10, at meetings that start at 7:30 p.m., the school will ask parents and interested others to look at four to six options.

It may be time for Trinity to replace buildings that range from 50 to 100 years in age and bring two separate elementary schools and the high school under one roof.

Glasser said there’s ample land at the high school site to do so. What needs to be determined is whether there’s appetite for a substantial investment that will only be partially offset by fire insurance.

However that turns out, Kovash said Trinity — where religious images are part of his classroom decor and the Catholic tradition is strong and stable — is a second home to him. “I’ve been here 28 years and this is where I want to be. It’ll take more than a fire to run us out,” he said.

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