Officials hope to begin Whatcom school fire investigation soon

Decision on structure by early 2010

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 19, 2009 

Whatcom Update

Chris Koker of Plastering Plus Northwest puts up scaffolding around the entrance of Whatcom Middle School Wednesday morning, Nov. 18, 2009. Work to shore up exterior walls was delayed because of the high winds. Officials are waiting for the building to be stabilized before further investigating the cause of a Nov. 5 fire that heavily damaged the school.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Bellingham School District officials hope to have Whatcom Middle School structurally sound enough for fire investigators to enter by Nov. 30.

An early-morning fire devastated the building Nov. 5.

By the end of this year or early next year, investigators hope to have an official determination of the fire's cause and a damage estimate, and know if the historic building is salvageable, said district spokeswoman Tanya Rowe.

Before then, much work remains to be done.

The fire destroyed much of the school's roof and parts of the second floor, and water damage was apparent on the first floor, said Assistant Chief Roger Christensen of the Bellingham Fire Department. The fire rendered the building too unstable for police and fire investigators to enter.

Reid Middleton, an Everett engineering firm, has submitted a plan on how to shore up the building temporarily. City officials must approve the plan before issuing permits, said Pete Dawson, president of Dawson Construction of Bellingham.

At board meeting Nov. 9, the district declared an emergency and waived a multiple-bid requirement for the work, Rowe said.

The district has notified Dawson of its hope to award the company a contract for the temporary shore work, as well as long-term shoring, Dawson said.

No cost estimates on how much the shoring will cost the district will be available until inspectors can get inside the building.

Rowe said the district won't be working with Belfor USA Group Inc., as representatives of that company said previously.

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