St Clair High School rises from the ashes to reopen for a new term

Exhausted but determined: principal Chris Presland of St Clair High School and students ready for the first day of the new term in demountables on their former sports ground. Photo: Peter Rae Gutted: St Clair High School after the fire on June 29. Photo: Chris Presland

The computer labs are gone, all the library books are lost and the school’s beloved graduation gowns are destroyed.

But as students returned from the school holidays to the burnt-out St Clair High School on Tuesday, where 20 demountable classrooms have overtaken their prized sporting field, there was none of the usual post-holiday blues.

Instead, students and teachers were relieved, and a little exhausted, after two weeks of non-stop work to get the school back on its feet after a fire tore through the grounds during the first weekend of the school holidays.

Almost all the school was destroyed. Most classrooms were lost, with only the science labs and kitchens spared.

But in just two weeks, the school has risen from the ashes and classes will resume, as usual, this week.

Principal Chris Presland said many of the school’s teachers had worked “24/7” at the school since the fire on June 29 and many students had given up their holidays to help with the recovery effort.

There were plenty of tears initially, especially when year 12 students realised that the academic gowns, which they wear for an annual much-loved graduation ceremony before the HSC, went up in the fire.

But Mr Presland said once the shock had subsided, and there was some positive news such as the discovery that the year 12 student’s HSC art and industrial design works had escaped the fire, everyone set their sights on rebuilding.

The University of Western Sydney has also promised to lend the school 200 academic gowns for the graduation ceremony.

“A major source of anxiety straight away was that the kids would need to be housed at another school,” Mr Presland said.

“But I said straight away that the kids would be back on site, at our school, on day one.”

One of the school’s captains, 17-year-old Janet Tefaili, said the students were heartbroken when they heard the news of the fire.

“There were tears to start with but then we all picked ourselves up and worked out what we could do to help,” she said.

The cause of the fire cannot be determined and the damage bill is expected to stretch into the millions of dollars.

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