Las Vegas Sun

August 31, 2014

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July fire may pay off at middle school

For Anthony Dhen, chairman of the health and physical education department at Roy Martin Middle School, there may be a silver lining to the suspicious July 5 blaze that turned the campus gymnasium into a pile of smoldering rubble.

"It sounds terrible, but the gym burning down may have been a good thing if it means the kids get a better school sooner," Dhen said.

"This place is almost 50 years old ... there's problems with the air conditioning and heating, there's mold in some buildings. Maybe this (the fire) will move the school up on the list. If this school was in Green Valley, it would have been rebuilt by now."

Videotapes from the school's security cameras led authorities to believe the fire was started with matches or a lighter by juveniles who were not supposed to be inside the gym.

At the time of the blaze there were five children and five adults at the city's Hadland Outdoor Public Pool on the school grounds, which is used during the summer months for recreation and aquatics programs.

The city and the district had a reciprocal agreement allowing the recreation program access to the locker rooms and showers adjacent to the gym. But the gym itself, and the rest of the school buildings, were supposed to be locked.

Tim Syzmanski, spokesman for Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, said Wednesday the case had been turned over to the district attorney's juvenile division for review.

In addition to the fire department, Clark County School District Police, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue and the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have all participated in the investigation.

Fred Smith, construction manager for the School District, said it hasn't been decided whether the gymnasium will be rebuilt at the school, at Stewart Avenue and 28th Street just east of downtown Las Vegas.

"Do we spend a whole lot of money on a new gym or do we put the insurance payment in the bank and wait and do a total (campus) replacement," Smith said. "There are are also a lot of variations on those two options."

Built in 1959, the Martin campus had been earmarked for nearly $7 million in repairs. The loss of the gym and damage to nearby classrooms is estimated to have cost the district $7.5 million.

A total renovation of the campus is estimated at $22 million. The district's current middle school prototype costs about $35 million to build.

While the district decides its course of action, Martin students are making do with doubled-up P.E. classes and portable classrooms that have been converted into changing areas. The school's swimming program was canceled.

Dhen said he has asked for permission to paint volleyball court lines on the fresh blacktop where the gym once stood.

Ayla Astorga, a seventh grader at Martin, said the makeshift locker rooms "actually aren't that bad. They're air-conditioned."

As for whether the district should rebuild the gym immediately, Astorga said it would depend on whether the cost would take funds away from other campus activities.

"We need a gym, but we need to support our whole school," Astorga said. "But if they have the money, definitely -- they should do it right away."

Eighth grader Terrell Daugherty said his P.E. class so far hasn't been much different from the ones he had last year. The loss of the gym will be felt when the middle school basketball season starts up in December, Daugherty said.

"Now we don't have no place to play," Daugherty said. "It's kind of sad."

School officials are working on a proposal to move the basketball program to the Chuck Minker Sports Complex, located about a half-mile from the campus.

"It's very noticeable that the gym isn't there, it's a huge void," said Martin Assistant Principal Mary Hafner. "The students ask whether we're getting a new gym or a new school, and the only we answer we have is that we don't know yet."

There haven't been any complaints from students or parents, Hafner said.

"Everyone understands that we have to do the best we can under the circumstances," Hafner said.

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