An arsonist set fire to Elm Grove Elementary in the early morning hours of Monday, June 7, 1999. Firefighters were on the scene in minutes. Sixty-six firefighters fought the blaze for two hours. The fire destroyed classrooms used by fifth-grade language arts/social studies teachers, two second-grade classrooms and five third-grade classrooms. Smoke and water damage was sustained in other parts of the building. To rebuild the structure, nine classrooms had to be completely demolished, and most of the rest of the structure had to be gutted. The damage exceeded $3.5 million. Two other Humble ISD schools had incidents of arson during that same month. A fire set at Riverwood Middle School was quickly contained, but still suffered in excess of $40,000 worth of damage. At Deerwood Elementary the playground equipment was set on fire.
Arson investigators quickly caught the 13-year old arsonist. Two other 12-year old boys were admitted to being present when the fire was started. All three had been former students at the school. The students were processed through the juvenile justice system, and all three were referred to HFD's Juvenile Firesetters program, and also referred to a twelve session counseling program. Only the 13-year old student was charged. Since he had no prior record, he received only one year's probation.
Fire damage at Elm Grove Elementary, June 1999
Elm Grove South: The building was too damaged to allow the school to open for the Fall semester. Several parts of the building had to be razed down to the concrete slab. Determined to keep the students and teachers together, in a sense of community, the Humble ISD School Board decided to relocate classes to the old Humble Elementary campus on Charles Street. The district had recently sold that building after opening a new Humble Elementary campus behind Deerbrook Mall. The district leased the old building back from the new owners, and turned it into "Elm Grove South." Realizing the difficult situation in having student attend a school so far form their neighborhood, the district provided transportation each day from Kingwood.
Community meetings were held at Deerwood Elementary for the Elm Grove parents to meet with district leaders, including Assistant Superintendent John Widmier, School Board member Aaron Clevenson, and Elm Grove administrators Principal Cathy Airola and Assistant Principal Georgia Bartlett. Parent concerns about transportation, safety, and other issues were addressed.
Transportation: Principal Cathy Airola explained that Goodman buses had been contracted to transport students from Kingwood to Humble each, and would make normal stops to pick-up students, starting at 7:25 each morning. The buses would be traveling along West Lake Houston drive to avoid Highway 59 and construction problems. Parents also had to option of driving their students to school. The plan was for Elm Grove South to start at 8:30, and it will there will be leniency with the tardy policy.
The district ran trial bus rides for the Elm Grove Students July 27-30, to help put them at ease in their new surroundings. They were picked up close to their homes at 9 a.m. and transported to Elm Grove South so they could understand how long it would take to get to school each morning. Once there, they would given a snack, and then taken back home.
Elm Grove South students take a trial bus ride
to their campus, July 1999
School begins: School started on August 11, 1999 at the Elm Grove South campus for the 600 students and their teachers. Elm Grove second-grade teacher Kara Jennings and first-grade teacher Regina Eakin coordinated the establishment of a fund to help their colleagues purchase teaching materials lost in the fire, and to replace personal items lost by teachers that were not covered by insurance.
Elm Grove South, 1999-2000
Assistant Principal Georgia Bartlett and Principal Cathy Airola
greet their students at Elm Grove South, Fall 1999.
Elm Grove South 3rd grade students participate in a
walking field trip throughout the Humble Downtown Area.
Everyday Heroes: Principal Cathy Airola and Assistant Principal Georgia Bartlett were nominated by the Elm Grove Elementary faculty and staff for the Kingwood Observer & Sun's Everyday Heroes Award. Both administrators spent the majority of their summer vacation helping students, parents and teacher ease into the situation regarding Elm Grove South. They spent many hours contacting parents and working out the minute detail of the move to the south campus.
Return to Elm Grove Elementary: Students and staff returned to a totally rebuilt Elm Grove Elementary in Kingwood at the beginning of the 2000-2001 school-year.