Friday night’s “New School Celebration” at the rebuilt Meadows of Dan Elementary School was a time for speakers and others to give thanks.
They thanked Patrick County area fire departments that fought an Aug. 13, 2011, blaze at the original school.
They thanked the Patrick County School Board for voting to rebuild the school.
They thanked school officials and others who saw the project through.
And, they thanked a community that supported the school throughout the ordeal.
Nearly 2 1?2 years after the original school burned in an electrical fire, about 375 people gathered in the school and then toured the main building that replaced one that burned.
Amid the “thank-yous,” school, school division and community and county leaders also talked about coming back from a disaster, perseverance, support from the community and beyond, and good things arising from adversity.
Students are scheduled to begin using the new 26,000-square-foot main building on Monday.
The school cafeteria, which was partially damaged in the fire, has been renovated, and the school gym was not damaged.
“For the past 28 months, students and staff have held classes in 12 educational mobile units,” Principal Jeannie King stated in an email. “School staff members are excited to have their new facility and to be under one roof.”
“The wind, cold, rain and other elements have made the transitions difficult, but all endured with positive attitudes. Students and their families were most cooperative and supportive through all the moves,” King said.
The new building “mirrors the old school with the same two-story status,” she stated. “The building committee, chaired by school board members Ronnie Terry and Bobby Mangrum, worked diligently to make sure the building would be most effective for students for many years to come.”
The original scroll work from the old building was placed on the front of the new building, she added.
During the celebration, King thanked and praised everyone involved in the construction project and the transition since the fire. That included staff, students, parents, other people in the community and beyond, current and former members of the Patrick County School Board, the county’s board of supervisors, school division administration, other schools, the building committee, fire departments, community organizations, churches, and those involved in demolition, construction, architecture, grading, oversight and more.
Other speakers praised King for her dedication and leadership, and she was given a plaque.
King said a plaque will be put up stating the building is dedicated to the Meadows of Dan Fire Department and other fire departments and rescue squads that responded to the fire; past and present students and families; and the Meadows of Dan community and the people of Patrick County and beyond.
“It was a pretty sad day. A lot of guys went to the school,” Carlton Largen, chief of the Meadows of Dan Volunteer Fire Department, recalled of the fire.
Another official of the fire department said every fire department in Patrick County and some from outside the county responded.
Terry, the Blue Ridge District representative on the Patrick County School Board, said he didn’t think he had ever seen so many people in the school before as were there Friday night.
He also said, among other things, a lot of people attended the original school — which was built in the late 1930s — and have memories, but starting Monday he hopes current and future students will have memories of their own from the new building.
“Without Him (God), none of this would be possible,” Karl Weiss, Blue Ridge District supervisor, said in his remarks about the new building.
Weiss also thanked various people, including Terry, who were involved in the project, and he thanked the school board for voting to rebuild the school.
Outsiders “have marveled” that students missed only one day of school after the fire, but they didn’t know the spirit of the Meadows of Dan community and Patrick County, said Dean Gilbert, acting superintendent of the county school system and a former principal at the school. “This journey was a hard journey ... (but it shows) how adversity can bring the community together.”
The 26,000-square-foot building is about 2,500 square feet larger than the one that burned, Superintendent Roger Morris said in an interview in June 2012. The increased space was necessary mainly to comply with “guidelines from the state and some code requirements,” he said.
Several people touring the new building praised the modern and spacious facilities.
“I think it’s just wonderful,” said Barbara Bishop, who graduated from the school in 1969. “It’s the most beautiful school I’ve ever seen. I’m thankful the community could do this.”
“This is very touching to my heart,” said Diane Rorrer, who had several family members who went to or worked at the school. “This is amazing. It’s beautiful.”
Rorrer, a Title I teacher assistant at Patrick Springs Primary School, said that school and its staff provided things such as chairs, tables and lesson plans to help out after the fire.
“This is a dream come true. It was so sad when it burned,” said Garland Cockram of Woolwine, who graduated from the school in 1957.
“I can’t imagine a school this nice in Patrick County,” said his wife, Margie. “It’s going to be an asset to the community.”
The new building also got enthusiastic thumbs-up from Amy and Joe Haas, who both attended the school, and their daughters, Jordan and Tessa, who are students there now.
“I think it’s great. It’s more modern. It’s more spacious,” Amy Haas said.
Joe Haas said he was proud the community pulled together to rebuild the main building rather than close the school.
Jordan, who is in the fifth grade, and Tessa, who is in the fourth grade, said they are excited about the new school, especially the lockers, which the school didn’t have before; the spaciousness; and not having to combat the cold and weather, which they had to do when they left their mobile units.
Pre-kindergarten teacher Betsy George said the new building “reflects what the community wanted to see” in the facility. She said it’s modern, but it has traditional elements, such as some of the exterior architecture.
“It feels like the old school,” she said. “It just feels so right.”
“It’s amazing how wonderful things can come from disaster,” she said, praising various people’s kindness and compassion.
The project cost a little more than $5 million, Terry said in an interview. Most of the money came from an insurance settlement, he said.
Also, the county board of supervisors provided about $275,000 and the county school board provided about $163,000 left from previous capital projects, he said.
New Atlantic of Winston-Salem, N.C., was the contractor; RRMM Architects was the architect; and David Harrell of Harrell Construction did most of the grading, Terry said.