Donations help Hector school after historic building burns

By Tammy Keith Originally Published February 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 22, 2013 at 10:32 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Hector School District Superintendent Walt Davis looks at the rubble of a burned building. The district plans to rebuild on the site.

— Hector Superintendent Walt Davis said an outpouring of support has helped the district get back on its feet after a December fire destroyed a 60-year-old building that formerly was an elementary school.

“Our community’s been very supportive, and surrounding communities, even communities from around the state and other schools, have been just unbelievable, offering to help in any way possible,” Davis said last week.

He said more than $10,000, along with food and supplies, has been donated.

Two portable buildings have been leased through the district’s insurance company, Davis said.

“It’s been nice for our teachers and students to have a place, even temporary,” he said.

The building was destroyed the night of Dec. 13 in what investigators believe was an electrical fire, Davis said.

“The final determination was that it was most likely something electrical, and the origin was in the attic of the activity room,” he said.

Davis estimated the loss between $1.7 million and $2.4 million.

The 1952 building had been renovated several times through the years, he said.

“It was just amazing how many memories people had of that building — it served as a cafeteria at one time,” he said.

At the time of the fire, the building was being used for special-education classes, speech therapy, art and physical education. It also housed a computer lab and a food pantry. A backpack program, through which food was sent home with students on weekends, was operated out of the building.

Davis said the fire started about 30 minutes after the crowds cleared following a junior high basketball game and Christmas choir concert.

“The timing of everything, we were really blessed,” he said.

However, when news spread that the building was burning, many Hector residents and school employees gathered at the scene.

Hector Elementary Principal Kathy Freeman, 61, was one of them.

“Luckily, it happened at night, and we didn’t have any children. I would look at the fire and think, ‘Oh, gee, what if this was during the school day?’” she said. “A lot of my staff had come up here that night and stayed until we knew it had been contained,” she said.

Davis said “at least” 100 firefighters battled the blaze, and he praised their efforts.

Freeman, a Hector graduate, said she attended the former elementary school beginning in 1957 when it housed first through sixth grades, just one section of each.

“Lots and lots of memories there,” she said.“It’s a very large part of many people here, and teachers who had their classrooms in that building lost teaching materials and personal items that can’t be replaced — everything from gifts from students throughout the years to things you’ve brought from home to have a little piece of home in your classroom with you. That’s been sad.”

However, she said people have donated teaching supplies, food and more.

“It has just been remarkable the amount of support and compassion we have received with all the donations, and people have just called and said, ‘Anything you need, call me back and let me know,’” Freeman said. “It is phenomenal what this community has done — we have even gotten donations from out of state, [and from] Fort Smith to Little Rock. I think folks were very sympathetic to the loss.”

Donations have replenished the food pantry and allowed the backpack program to be restarted, Davis said.

The district has 620 students in K-12.

He said demolition and cleanup of the burned building will begin soon.

“We’re working with our insurance company to move forward, rebuilding the building on the same site,” he said.

A piece of Hector’s history was destroyed, but Davis said he marvels at the response of people throughout the state.

“It’s really been refreshing how everyone was able to reach out and help out,” he said. “It gives you hope on where we are as a country.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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