Robbers set fire to school
GAYLE, St Mary — The look on the face of Errol Bascoe spoke to the despair the principal was feeling as he tried to come to terms with the fact that someone set fire to the Tacky High School.
With his eyes filled with tears, the principal tried to put on a brave face for the students and teachers he leads as he tried to figure out his next move, yesterday.
"I am totally distraught," Bascoe told journalists as he observed cooling down operations at the school.
Four armed men wearing masks reportedly held up the watchman at the school about 1:00 am yesterday. When their demands were not met for him to provide them with the combination to the school's vault, the men tied up the watchman and attempted to rob the school.
According to the principal, the watchman reportedly heard "chiselling sounds", which indicated the men were trying to cut open something in the administrative building. Several hours later, at minutes after 5:00, a fire started at the building. It is believed the men set the building ablaze.
"How much money could a school have in a vault selling banana chips and bag juice?" an obviously shaken Bascoe asked.
He said the damage, although restricted to one section of the school, was extensive and a big setback,
as all students' files were destroyed.
"The... block that is destroyed is the administrative block," Bascoe said, adding that the fire will affect the school immensely as external exams (CSEC and CAPE) were scheduled to start yesterday. Arrangements have since been made for students doing CSEC exams to sit them at the neighbouring Guy's Hill High School.
The staffroom, principal's office, book room, multi-purpose hall, and storerooms were destroyed in the fire.
News of the fire rocked the Gayle community. Several parents and other residents gathered on the school grounds as firefighters carried out cooling down operations.
Councillor Fitzroy Wilson (PNP, Boscobel Division), who was early on the scene, was among those who expressed shock at the news that someone set fire to the school.
"We are condemning such an action from this community. This is an attack on the society, attack on education. We need as a community to come out and be vigilant. Let us all rise up this morning in Gayle and surrounding areas. Whoever is responsible for this act, I am asking that we get together, pool our resources with the police and find these culprits and put them to justice," he stated.
Wilson expressed appreciation to firefighters for containing the fire and preventing it from spreading to other sections of the school.
"The response from the fire (department), from what I gather, was swift and in numbers," he said. Trucks from Port Maria, St Ann's Bay and Ocho Rios put out the blaze."
No classrooms were destroyed in the blaze.
"The fire was contained to just one section of the school. It could have been worse, and we must say thanks to the Almighty that it's only a section," he said, adding that the school administrators were relieved that the CSEC test papers were not destroyed
"The safe they were housed in was set ablaze, but they weren't badly damaged, so it wasn't compromised one bit, so we are happy to know this," he added.
But Wilson pointed out that one of the setbacks caused by the blaze was that school will now focus on rebuilding the damaged section instead of adding new classrooms in a bid to end the shift system.
Meanwhile, parents expressed shock and sadness at the fire yesterday.
"Everybody is very upset. This should never happen in this community. This is a community school, and for something to happen like this, it very, very sad," said Sharon Lawrence.
Another parent, Pauline Johnson, concurred. "Tacky is a good school and to see the children dem a go out a school fi how long, mi feel very bad about it," she said.
The students, too, were distraught. One said she was concerned about students doing exams.
The St Mary police are investigating the fire.