CSU Fresno -- September 22, 2003

Arson is Cause of Sept. 8 Fire At Fresno State; Temporary Buildings for Student Services Going Up

The Fresno Fire Department has determined that arson was the cause of the Sept 8. fire that damaged a wing of the Lab School at California State University, Fresno -- the third oldest building on campus containing the first classrooms built in 1953.

University Police Chief Michael Dunlap today received the official report completed by FFD Fire Investigator Rod Russell, who conducted the investigation in conjunction with the State Fire Marshal and the University Police Department.

“The fire investigator has determined that the fire was deliberately set,” Dunlap said. “The University Police Department is continuing its active criminal investigation. Additional details of the report will be released once the criminal investigation is complete.”

He said potential witnesses are being interviewed and that anyone with additional information is encouraged to contact University Police Investigator Gilbert Washington at 278-2132. Nearly 2,000 students were without classes after the early morning two-alarm fire on Sept. 18 caused the shutdown of the 50-year-old Lab School for two days and the disruption of some student services such as tutoring.
Classes have resumed in six of the seven classrooms in the Lab School but one, room 128, was damaged beyond use and 10 classes being held there this semester had to be reassigned to other classrooms on campus.

Faculty offices for the Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies have reopened while the Speech and Hearing Clinic is expected to reopen Monday. Temporary buildings are now being erected west of the Leon S. Peters Business Building on the east side of the campus for three students services programs that have lost offices their offices as a result of the fire: the Learning Resource Center, Student Support Services and the Ronald E. McNair Program.

Tutoring resumed Sept. 15 while some services have been curtailed or limited until the temporary offices can be opened, which should be ready by the end of this month, according to Robert Boyd, Plant Operations director.

At the fire scene, clean-up of the affected wing continues through most of next week. Precautionary asbestos and lead abatement operations are expected to be complete by Monday, said Lisa Kao, the university’s environmental quality manager.

Insurance claims adjustors are still conducting their review of the damage. Final damage figures are not available, pending reports from structural engineers who are now assessing the integrity of key support beams, reports Steve Martinez, director of environmental health and safety.

The insured value of the entire Lab School complex is $4.7 million. Since a third of the complex was damaged, university officials estimated the damage at about $1.5 million to the structure only (content not included) but caution that this is only a general ballpark figure until insurance adjustors submit their report.
“Once we get those estimates in, probably late next week, then we can start to make some decisions about rebuilding, demolition or other options," Boyd said.

BACKGROUND: The Sept. 8 fire was reported at 2:52 a.m. by two newspaper delivery people and a campus custodian, with full response by the Fresno Fire Department on the scene by 2:58 a.m. It was centered in the central breezeway of the building near a bank of vending machines before spreading into an attic area of the lab school's central wing.

The Fresno Fire Department contained the fire before it reached other sections of the 18,618 square foot complex. But the entire complex was closed while fire crews worked and power was shut off to all buildings there as well as the adjacent University High School main building.

IMPACT: University High School reopened the next day and six of seven classrooms used for Fresno State classes as well as faculty offices in unaffected wings reopened within two days.

The Lab School classrooms serve several disciplines but the complex’s primary occupants are the Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies and its 14 faculty offices, as well two student services offices that housed the Learning Resource Center, Student Support Services (Student Affairs division), and the Ronald E. McNair Program (Graduate Studies division) with approximately 1,500 students affected by the fire. Twelve professional staff and 40 student staff who serve as tutors were affected.

Most of those services have either been curtailed or suspended until the temporary offices can be opened, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 1.

Only one of the seven classrooms, room 128, was damaged beyond use. The 32-seat classroom had 10 classes scheduled in it this fall, totaling 270 students. Two student services offices received extensive fire damage and two more received heavy smoke and water damage.

The 14 Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies faculty offices were closed for two days, along with the department office and the Speech and Hearing Clinic, which had 100 clients scheduled to come to campus Sept. 8 for the first day of fall semester appointments. They were notified that the clinic’s opening for the fall was postponed until Sept. 22.

RELOCATION: The damaged offices, all in the central wing, have been moved to emergency locations provided by other departments on campus while temporary buildings are now being erected on the west side of the Leon S. Peters Business Building on the east side of the campus. The buildings are expected to be ready for occupation by the end of next week.

The classes scheduled in Room 128 have since been re-assigned to other classrooms on campus. Those re-assignments are posted at www.FresnoStateNews.com.

LAB SCHOOL: The Lab School, built in 1953 and remodeled in 1975, is located on Keats and Jackson Avenues on the south central side of the campus. It is the third-oldest building on campus but since it was the first to hold classrooms, it houses the oldest classrooms on campus. It served as the first Fresno State Normal School at this location and was a training laboratory for elementary school teachers.

The 18,618 square foot complex consists of four wings and one stand-alone building. Seven classrooms of varying sizes hold 1,976 students for the fall 2003 semester.

Contact: Tom Uribes (559) 278-5366 or 246-1717

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