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Board votes to rebuild South Bay elementary after fire

Josephine Critchley, a first-grade student at South Bay

Josephine Critchley, a first-grade student at South Bay Elementary School, sits with her mom during a special meeting Tuesday night. (March 2, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Mahala Gaylord

South Bay will be back.

The West Babylon Board of Education voted unanimously at a special meeting Tuesday night to rebuild the K-5 school devastated by fire last month.

"We all have our marching orders and are thrilled with the direction the board of education has taken," said Superintendent Anthony Cacciola.

Parents packed the special meeting at West Babylon High School, called to discuss the future of the South Bay School.

Parent Bill Layden, who had asked parents before the meeting Tuesday night to sign a petition with more than 800 signatures to rebuild the school, said he was pleased with the board's decision.

"We want the school," Layden said. "It's the right thing to do and the right thing for the kids."

Cacciola said the district has to consider whether to construct a new building from the ground up, or restore what remains of the one-story structure. The board authorized hiring an architectural firm to examine the school and will work with its insurer regarding rebuilding.

Parent Audrey Schmutz said she hoped the board would provide some answers about what will happen to South Bay students as there had been several rumors circulating in the community, including plans not to rebuild.

She has a third-grade daughter in South Bay and wanted the school rebuilt.

"My other two kids went there and she really likes it there," Schmutz said.

More than 300 South Bay students have been attending classes at Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church after the Feb. 18 fire at the elementary school.

It remains unclear whether the new South Bay school will be ready for September. The district is looking at options for the fall.

Cacciola said the lease with Our Lady of Grace runs through June and is renewable for another year.

The quick-moving fire started when plastic bags stuffed with combustible painting materials ignited after being left in a hallway by a contractor working in the gym, the Babylon Town fire marshal has said. The district has not identified the contractor working in the school.

District officials said that if permitted, they will post the fire marshal's report when they receive it.

Trustee Diane Thiel said it was important to vote to rebuild the school. "Our goal should always be the kids and the community first."

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