Classrooms destroyed in high school inferno

Classrooms destroyed in high school inferno

BLAZE: A fire rips through the industrial arts block at Hunter Sports High School at Gateshead on Wednesday night. Police are investigating the cause of the inferno. Picture: Michael Bell/Merewether fire stationPOLICE have not ruled out suspicious circumstances as the cause for a fire that destroyed a block of classrooms at Hunter Sports High School on Wednesday night.
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More than 50 firefighters raced to the Gateshead school shortly after 11pm.

But the single-storey building was already well-alight when firefighters arrived, sending a thick plume of smoke overLake Macquarie.

There were existing plans for the building to be demolished as part of the school’s $45 million redevelopment, but the damage bill was still estimated to be half a million dollars.

Firefighters brought the fire under control in about two hours after some initial difficulty in sourcing a water supply.

PrincipalRachel Byrne saidthe fire wiped out five industrial arts classrooms and a storeroom, which were still in use.

She said the building also housed expensive industrial arts equipment.

The school made contact with the Department of Education on Thursday and confirmed industrial arts classes would take place in demountable buildings in the new year, which were being arranged to replace the fire-ravaged building.

The new industrial arts block is expected to open late next year.

Firefighters were still on the scene on Thursday to guard against potential spot fires.

And security guards attached to the construction site remained on site.

Police said the cause for the fire was still undetermined, not yet rulingout suspicious circumstances, if only because the investigation had thus far failed to show otherwise.Authorities appealed for anyone with information to come forward.

“Our investigation is still ongoing and we are chasing any information from the public as to how it occurred,” Lake Macquarie police Inspector SteveGallagher said.

“We would encourage anyone who can assist to come forward.”

The fire comes amid a substantial state government investment to rebuild the school.

At a site tour of the construction site in November, Education Minister Rob Stokes hailed the redevelopment as one of the biggest school upgrades in the state.

Mr Stokes said the reconstructionwas“a case study in complexity” and challenging for planners.

“Trying to keep a school operating in situ at the same time as building around it and all of the work place health and safety issues that need to be managed, it’s a case study in complexity and … an incredible logistical challenge,” he said.

The school moved to reassure parents classes would resume as normal at the end ofholidays.

Anyone with information should phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.