Shaker Heights elementary school devastated by fire reopens after more than 2 years

Fire at Fernway seen for miles, felt all over as donations helped rebuild the school

Shaker Heights elementary school devastated by fire reopens after more than 2 years
Kindergartners the first students back at Fernway Elementary, closed since July of 2018 after a fire gutted the school (Source: Vic Gideon)

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - On July 10, 2018, Fernway’s principal worked his office when an accidental fire began on the roof of the building where crews worked.

“There was smoke actually billowing over the side of the building," says Chris Hayward. “My hope was that it would be put out quickly. I guess I never imagined it would be as big a fire as it ended up being.”

It was a fire so big it gutted the school and shut it down for more than two years. Smoke from the fire visible for miles, felt even farther away.

“The actual day of the fire, I heard from people overseas as well as. There happened to be a group of students gathered in Manhattan," Hayward remembered.

Insurance and donations rebuilt the school even better, with an addition, an elevator, air conditions, a dedicated art room, a dedicated music room, and a new playground.

But one thing was missing.

“A school is not a school without students," said Hayward. "I’ve always said, ‘Yes, the facility is finished and, yes, the inside of it looks like a school,’ but until we actually get students in the building, it’s not a school.”

“I’m thrilled,” says Sara Lee, walking her son Emmett to class. “We’re very excited. It’s been a long time coming with the new school.”

Shaker Heights elementary school devastated by fire reopens after more than 2 years

“It’s nice,” says Sam Beasley, walking Bentley to his first day of school. “I mean, again, that’s why we moved here so it’s great to that they’ve invested so much in this school right in our neighborhood.”

“Super excited,” says Danielle McDonald. “They’ve been waiting a long time to come.”

“Very excited to have it back open again,” said her husband, Brian McDonald, both walking Felix to Fernway. “It’s great. Great for the neighborhood.”

Kindergartners returned on Thursday as the school phases in students, with all kindergarten through fourth-grade students back under one room by Tuesday after attending Onaway, Boulevard, and Woodbury.

“The idea that this school is coming back online here in 2020 just created a great sense of excitement in our greater community.”

The district had planned the reopening for last month, but the district remained in remote learning due to coronavirus concerns.

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