Fire destroys Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences
BY AMANDA BLAND World Staff Writer
Thursday, September 06, 2012
9/06/12 at 7:23 AM
Related story: Fire is ‘devastating’
Students and parents stood in front of the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences shaking their heads in disbelief and wiping tears from their eyes Wednesday morning as firefighters worked to contain the flames ravaging their school's new building.
Firefighters had responded after a caller reported smoke at the former Barnard Elementary School, 2324 E. 17th St., shortly before 5 a.m.
When they arrived, heavy flames were shooting from the roof, but they went inside to search the building and begin firefighting efforts. Two explosions soon caused them to pull out of the building.
The explosions "were sizable enough they were worried about the structure" and personnel, Fire Capt. Stan May said.
Eight firefighters were injured in the explosions and were taken by ambulance to Hillcrest Medical Center for varying burn-related injuries to their hands, sides of their faces and lower legs, he said. Six of those firefighters were later released from the hospital.
The two other firefighters suffered third-degree burns and were expected to remain at the hospital overnight, May said.
The blaze was contained around 10 a.m., but firefighters continued to snuff out hot spots throughout the evening.
Nearly half of the roof covering the school's west end was consumed, and the north wing's roof was sagging and near collapse.
Fire Department officials said the building was a total loss.
While the cause of the fire had not been determined, May said officials "are not going to rule anything out" when the investigation begins.
The Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has activated its National Response Team to assist the Tulsa Fire Marshal's Office in the investigation, May said.
The National Response Team is composed of fire and explosives experts - including certified fire investigators, fire protection and electrical engineers, and chemists - from across the country who specialize in large-scale fire investigations. The team responds when requested by a state or municipal department when additional resources are needed.
The unit, which responds at no cost to the city making the request, is expected to arrive Thursday and complete an extensive investigation to help determine what sparked the multiple explosions inside the building, May said.
"Tulsa's fire marshal feels it is very important to know what caused a fire that sent eight firefighters to the hospital and what actions or precautions could have prevented those explosions," May said in a press release Wednesday afternoon. "It is hoped that the lessons learned from this investigation will improve fire responses to this type of fire, not only here, but across the nation," he said.
The school: Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences Director Eric Doss said police contacted him with the news of the fire.
"They said they were already on the scene, and it's big," Doss said.
By 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, classes had been canceled for the day.
Arts and Sciences is a charter high school of about 300 students sponsored by Tulsa Public Schools. During its first 10 years of operation, Arts and Sciences was housed in a leased 23,000-square-foot space in an office park near 51st Street and Yale Avenue.
This summer the school more than doubled its space by moving into the Barnard building. The Tulsa district had closed Barnard in May 2011 as part of the Project Schoolhouse efficiency initiative.
Doss said there was still a small construction project under way inside the facility, but workers had left the building Tuesday evening and were not on site when the fire started.
"We were so excited to be in a real building," said Becky Baker, whose 15- and 17-year-old children go to Arts and Sciences.
"It's just so large and pretty," she said of the building. "It fits our kids because it's old and quirky."
Baker and many other families of students spent their weekends leading up to the first day of school painting walls, laying tile and deep cleaning the building.
"It was like a new start," said senior Kaze Mauser as he and his friends watched firefighters douse the building.
Principal Liesa Smith asked her students to be brave and creative in facing the task of rebuilding. She said she wants them to feel that they can have a part in the effort, and she encourages them to "hold onto hope."
Neighborhood residents mourned for a second time, including the May 2011 Barnard closing, what they described as a fixture in the area.
"Everybody knows Barnard on Lewis (Avenue)," said Tiffany Brannon, who lives in the area.
Three generations of Brannon's family walked Barnard's halls. Her mother went to the school in the late 1950s; Brannon followed, and her son was a student there in recent years.
"It's just a shame. It's a beautiful building," she said. "My brother called and said, 'Barnard's burning to the ground.' I jumped up and threw my shoes on."
Superintendent Keith Ballard said the Tulsa district is greatly saddened by the fire and its devastating impact on the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences.
"They are a charter school partner with Tulsa Public Schools, and we are committed to helping them recover from the tragic loss of this facility," Ballard said in a statement.
World Staff Writers Andrea Eger and Kendrick Marshall contributed to this story.
Barnard school history
Barnard was one of the city's oldest school buildings before it was destroyed in a fire Wednesday. Opened in 1925, the school's namesake was Henry Barnard, an educational promoter and first U.S. commissioner of education. It was the only school in the Yorktown Historic District. It was closed in May 2011 as part of Tulsa Public Schools' efficiency initiative Project Schoolhouse. This summer the building was leased and renovated by Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences, a charter high school.
Original Print Headline: Explosions in blaze injure 8 firefighters
Amanda Bland 918-581-8413
Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences Principal Liesa Smith (left), 18-year-old senior Micah Parks, and her sister, 16-year-old junior TaylorParks, stand with the girls’ mother, Sojourner Harper (background), and watch as their school burns early Wednesday. Smith saidthat “we have to be brave and think creatively at this point. We’re going to really have to work together. It’s going to be an interestingjourney, but if anyone can do it, this school can.” CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World
Student Audrey Williams holds a charred book page she foundafter the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences burned Wednesday.MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World