Woodridge races to rise from the ashes

Woodridge was badly damaged earlier this month by raging fires that gutted half the buildings.
Picture: Fredlin Adriaan

While most schools are winding down for the holidays, Woodridge College staff are racing against the clock to ensure all is ready for its reopening next week.

The college was badly damaged earlier this month by raging fires that gutted half the buildings.

But it was a hive of activity yesterday, with grounds staff busy with mop-up operations and construction crews tearing down the fire-damaged buildings.

Mobile classrooms are being delivered steadily and service staff are hard at work trying to restore power.

Overseeing the operation are college headmaster Derek Bradley and preparatory school headmaster Trevor von Berg, whose homes were also damaged.

While Von Berg was able to salvage some belongings, Bradley could rescue only a briefcase with documents inside.

His office at the college section was also destroyed, as were decades of school records and files that had been housed in the administration block.

He said that, fortunately, the last 20 years’ records had been retrieved later from computers.

Despite the massive losses and the destruction of historic buildings, both men were upbeat about welcoming back the school’s 670 pupils.

“Our business is education and our parents and the children are our clients,” Bradley said.

“The day after the fire, the trust and the school management team made a strategic decision to make this happen – and we have.”

Von Berg said the work had been made possible by offers of assistance from past pupils and parents.

The school has also not postponed its popular reunion weekend, due to start at the school on Friday next week.

“I am sure it will be the biggest one yet,” Bradley said.

Among the buildings destroyed were 13 staff houses, three classrooms and the girls’ hostel at the preparatory section, which accommodated 29 pupils.

Also gutted were six classrooms and offices, the dining hall, kitchen and the administration building, which housed the finance department, school records and Bradley’s office. The library was also destroyed.

Von Berg said 17 mobile classrooms had been secured – many of them already delivered to the school.

Also completed was the erection of a massive tented and glass structure which would serve as a dining hall for the 270 boarding pupils.

New school furniture, workbooks, equipment and other stationery have also been ordered.

“We lost our fibre optics, so that needs to be set up. Fortunately, we will soon have our connectivity again,” Von Berg said.

The water supply had already been restored, while the sewerage system and electricity supply would be restored by the weekend.

Telkom crews were working on restoring the telephone lines.

“Phase one is the demolition of the buildings that have been destroyed,” Von Berg said.

“After that, we expect building to start immediately – and that could take a year to 18 months.

Bradley said: “With tragedy comes opportunity. In building these new classrooms, we can look at introducing the latest educational methods.”

Von Berg said boarding school pupils would return on Monday afternoon, while the rest would start school on Tuesday.

“This kind of trauma affects different people in different ways,” he said.

“But kids are resilient and there are some lessons to be learned from what has happened.”

The headmasters said the fire had not disrupted matric exams, with the pupils writing at two venues, one in Port Elizabeth and the other in Jeffreys Bay, or completing them online.

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