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School buildings being readied for fire uses

Fires complicate school start dates


Grand Coulee Dam School District Superintendent Dennis Carlson checks out the setup at Lake Roosevelt's elementary gym. - Roger Lucas photo

Grand Coulee Dam school personnel have offered their buildings for use by firefighters and other fire needs.

Superintendent Dennis Carlson said Tuesday that there is an 80 percent chance that the opening of school will be delayed until Sept. 8, due to the fires. He said a final decision will be made Thursday.

Both the Grand Coulee Dam and Nespelem school districts postponed their board meetings Monday night for a week. Nespelem's school is in a Level 2 evacuation zone.

Carlson noted that there is a "red flag" warning due to higher temperatures, low humidity, and the prediction of increasing winds. And Republic has also been told to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice.

He stated that the American Red Cross has been notified that the local school buildings are available in the event that Republic has to be evacuated. The schools will be the shelter for Republic.

The Colville Tribes and the Red Cross have used the school since last Wednesday and had set up some 35 cots in the elementary gym in case they were needed.

Eight residents of the Nespelem Convalescent Center and their support personnel have been using a section of the new school for about a week, and Carlson expects another 12 to move to the school from Coulee Medical Center soon, bringing that total to 20. Some of these will require hospital beds and they will be moved soon to the school.

The U.S. Forest Service will be using the former middle school gym mat room as a sleeping location for their night crew firefighters - possibly as many as 200. The mat rooms have air conditioning and are being made ready.

"As more firefighters are released from surrounding fires and coming here, they are finding it hard to sleep at the powwow grounds due to the noise of trucks and helicopters," Carlson stated.

Tuesday afternoon, 539 personnel were stationed at the Nespelem Community Center incident command.

The Colville Tribes have asked about using the middle school gym and field for firefighter testing and training, beginning Friday and continuing through next week. Carlson said even Center School's gym area could be made ready for use if necessary, but the district would have to locate porta-potties since the former school doesn't have sewer service.

Carlson stated that the new school will be open to Nespelem School staff on Monday so they can hold staff training. Their staff has been invited to join the Grand Coulee Dam District staff for an 8 a.m. breakfast that day.

"I want to express my appreciation to all of our school staff members who understand the severity of the problems and who are accommodating the loss of the use of their classrooms and the disruption to what was supposed to be a normal start to the school year," Carlson stated.

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