Vandals cause $250,000 damage at Bellingham school, force delay to start of classes

Vandals caused an estimated $250,000 worth of damage to Bellingham Christian School’s Sunset Drive campus, forcing the school to delay the start of classes by one week.

In an online letter to the Bellingham Christian community Friday, Aug. 9, principal Shawn Cunningham said the start of the 2019-20 school year has been moved to Sept. 10 for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Seventh- and eighth-grade classes will begin Sept. 9 at Spring Creek Church and will remain there until Sept. 25, so renovation work on the classrooms can be completed.

Cunningham’s letter said preschool classes at the Spring Creek campus will still start during the first week of September.

“This setback not only hurts our hearts for the people who did the damage, but has caused delays to the plan for starting school, specifically in our ability to access the supplies and finish the gym remodel,” Cunningham wrote in the letter.

“Happening simultaneously with the construction has made it very complicated to put a timeline in place for teachers to move into their classrooms, use their computers, finish the gym remodel and have space for events.”

Following the vandalism, two unidentified juvenile suspects have been booked into the Whatcom County Juvenile Detention Center on suspicion of second-degree theft, first-degree malicious mischief and second-degree burglary.

According to information provided to The Bellingham Herald by Lt. Claudia Murphy, officers responded to the school at 8:21 a.m. on July 23 for the report of a burglary in the gym area of the school. Many of the school’s supplies, equipment, electronics and computers were being stored in the gym during the summer renovation project.

Murphy said the suspects ripped down plywood so they could enter the gym, and once inside they sprayed fire extinguishers throughout the interior, damaging the computers and other equipment being stored there.

The suspects also reportedly marked the walls with curse words, sexually offensive references and drawings and sprayed ketchup, mustard and other condiments and food throughout the adjacent kitchen. The refrigerator door also was left open.

Murphy said the suspects also stole several compound bows used for archery worth approximately $2,500.

Most of the extensive damage was caused by the fire extinguisher chemicals contaminating the walls, ceiling tiles, air ventilation system and the electronics, Murphy said.

Murphy said investigators were able to identify an initial suspect from a phone call that was made to the police department. A closed-circuit TV system in the school also identified further suspects, Murphy said.

Some of the stolen property was returned, and 14- and 15-year-old female suspects were arrested on Aug. 2 and 3, but Murphy said further investigation into additional suspects is ongoing.

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According to its website, Bellingham Christian is a non-denominational Christian school for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

With the start of classes delayed, Cunningham said the school would ensure it wouldn’t extend the school year further into June while still meeting state-required class time by:

Turning Nov. 7 and June 10 from half days into full days at the Sunset campus to make up a combined full day.

Hosting a regular school day at both campuses on May 22 to make up a full day.

Having classes for fifth- through eighth-graders end five minutes later at 3:30 p.m. and starting kindergartners through fourth-graders five minutes early at 8:55 a.m. to make up three days over the course of the school year.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.