DICKINSON, N.D. — The burnt smell of Trinity High School in Dickinson permeates the building, with the front office area almost wholly blackened and charred.
Since the fire early Monday morning rendered the building unusable, school officials have scrambled to figure out how to carry on with the rest of the school year. And, thanks to cooperation off a number of community partners, they have the basics figured out already.
As of Tuesday night, Trinity Principal Thomas Joseph Sander, who was with the school less than a year, had been charged with arson and endangerment by fire, both Class B felonies.
Trinity students will return to school next Monday. Most will be housed at various public schools in Dickinson. The remainder will be at a local Catholic church.
Trinity seventh- and eighth-graders will head to the new Prarie Rose Elementary School in Dickinson. Ninth-graders will go to Berg Elementary School and sophomores to Hagen Junior High School.
The juniors and seniors will attend class in the basement of St. Joseph Church. The Trinity administration staff will be housed at TMI, a laminate manufacturer in Dickinson.
Though some Trinity students will be at the public schools, they will have their own classroom space and be taught by Trinity teachers.
Desks will be provided by Dickinson State University, and the public schools will provide hot lunch for those students at their facilities, as well as textbooks for all the students.
“The generosity and professionalism of the community has been inspiring,” said Monsignor Patrick Schumacher, the chairman of the board for Dickinson Catholic Schools.
Schumacher addressed Trinity students and parents at Queen of Peace Catholic Church after 9:15 a.m. Ash Wednesday Mass.
He told the group that he, the board and Bishop David Kagan are starting to plan for the future, even beyond the next three months.
“I said that we will rebuild, and we will,” he said. “... At Dickinson Catholic Schools, we are a family and that building was our home.”
But, he added, it is the students and faculty who really make Trinity the great place it is.
Kagan will travel to Dickinson on Friday for a meeting with the board at 1 p.m.
“Although these events are immediately devastating, the future for Dickinson Catholic Schools is filled with hope,” said a statement from the Diocese of Bismarck.
The Dickinson Fire Department responded to the fire at Trinity at 1:15 a.m. Monday and had controlled it by 3 a.m.
Schumacher said at the meeting that he and Dickinson Catholic Schools President Steve Glasser had been called into law enforcement offices Tuesday afternoon where police explained the situation to them in depth. However, Schumacher said, he and Glasser cannot reveal any more information than what the police have.
Sander is innocent until proven guilty, Schumacher said. “That’s how our system works.”
Glasser also spoke to the group, outlining the plan for where students would be attending school starting Monday.
“We have no control over the situation,” Glasser said. “We have all the control in the world over how we respond to the situation.”
There are still many details to be ironed out, like where music classes, which have students from different grade levels, will be held and where sports teams will practice.
Glasser said he is hoping officials can iron out those details in the next couple of days and that, by the second week back to class, the students can regain a sense of normalcy.
Though the fire marshal has turned the school back over to school officials, Glasser said they don’t know when they will be able to get anything out of the non-damaged areas, like textbooks and students’ personal items.
Glasser said the third quarter is officially over and, amid students cheering loudly, he is requesting a waiver from the state Department of Public Instruction so the students don’t have to make up this lost week of school. The school calendar will not change, he said.
Because the school will be renting the space from the public schools, it will be able to teach its normal religion classes.
Trinity is also offering counseling services for students to help them deal with the situation.