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Church to host classes another year as school rebuilds

A massive fire destroys South Bay Elementary School

A massive fire destroys South Bay Elementary School in West Babylon on Feb. 18, 2010. Credit: Adam Daley

Students from South Bay Elementary School in West Babylon will spend the school year at the same local church that allowed the school to use its classrooms after a quick-moving fire ravaged the school in February.

The district plans to rebuild South Bay in time to open for 2011-12, but in the meantime will send the school's 300 students back to Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church when school opens in September, school officials said Thursday.

District Superintendent Anthony Cacciola cited stability for the students and the desire to keep them together in the decision to send them back to Our Lady of Grace, which had open and available classrooms.

The cost of rebuilding and the $25,000-per-month rent for Our Lady of Grace will be paid entirely by the district's insurance policy; no taxpayer money is involved, school officials said. The size and scope of the new school will remain the same, with all the amenities when it reopens, with some adjustments for better use of space, said Principal JoAnn Scott.

"This is tragedy, but this is now an opportunity," Scott said, adding that for example, the layout of the kitchen will change so the lunch line will be in the cafeteria, not the hallway.

The new building will incorporate parts of the old building not destroyed by the fire, and it will have a steel roof. Cacciola said the new building will not have sprinklers, but will have fire doors at each section.

"The building had a wood roof and according to code right now, a wood roof could go right back," he said. "So what we negotiated with the insurance company is that the whole roof is being removed and there is going to be a steel roof."

Fire officials have said that the makeup of the wood-frame school, built in the 1950s, aided the fire's spread on Feb. 18. The blaze moved up and entered the roof structure of wood planks and joists, and took off from there, they said.

In the meantime, the final fire marshal's report, obtained Thursday through a Freedom of Information request, confirmed that the fire was accidental and started in plastic bags stuffed with combustible painting materials left in a janitor's hallway by a contractor working on the floor of the school's gym. The company has been identified in public records as Milburn Flooring Mills of Copiague. A call and e-mail to the company's president were not returned Thursday.

The fire was the result of careless "discarding of materials known to spontaneously combust," read the report from the Town of Babylon fire marshal's office. "When placed together in plastic garbage bags and left unattended, the result was an exothermic chemical reaction which reached an ignition temperature great enough . . . to sustain combustion of the surrounding ordinary combustibles and plastic materials."



West Babylon school district's architect plans to get construction plans for the new South Bay Elementary to the state Department of Education for approval by Aug. 15.

District hopes plans will be approved by September.

South Bay students return to Our Lady of Grace classrooms on Sept. 7.

Construction expected to start on the new school some time in September.

South Bay expected to reopen to students in September 2011.


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