Fire forces high school students to middle school building

Fire trucks stage at Oconto High School April 16, 2014, after a report of smoke in a hallway. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)
Fire trucks stage at Oconto High School April 16, 2014, after a report of smoke in a hallway. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)

OCONTO - Students at Oconto High School will be back in class next Monday, after a fire damaged their school Wednesday.

But for the next three weeks, classes will need to be moved.

The fire is considered suspicious. The Oconto Police and Fire Departments say they have several leads as they try to figure out what started the fire.

Investigators are reviewing security video and interviewing students and teachers.

"I think we have a lot of good people looking at it," said Oconto Police Chief Dan Ault.

Ault believes the investigation will end with a clear determination of who or what started the fire.

"I'm confident that we're going to get to those answers as we move through this," he said.

Investigators say the fire started in a men's bathroom. All students and staff got out of the school safely.

Officials say the smoke during the fire was thick and heavy because the bathroom stalls are made from a plastic composite.

FOX 11 was not allowed to go inside the school because of safety concerns, but Sara Croney, district superintendent, described the worst of the damage.

"The tile, the walls, the everything is like you're walking into a black box," said Croney.

Repairs are expected to cost $5 million. Almost all of that will be covered by insurance.

Students were sent home after the fire Wednesday, and classes were canceled Thursday.

School was already canceled Friday because of Good Friday. The district says students will not have to make up the class time lost because of the fire.

Starting Monday, students will meet at the middle school. Croney says there are around 300 middle school students using the building.

She says it's housed 800 students before, so there's room for the 300 high schoolers.

Croney believes it could take some time to make sure students and teachers have the right supplies.

"This becomes stressful for my teachers. That concerns me, because they would like their teaching materials. All of that has to be cleaned," she said.

Students are being asked to park in the First American Lutheran Church lot. After-school sports will be going on as scheduled.

She hopes classes can resume at the high school on May 12.