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Repairs begin on St. Anthony of Padua School, damaged by arson

Posted at 11:45 AM, Feb 23, 2022

PARMA, Ohio — Following a suspected arson fire that broke out this past Saturday at St. Anthony of Padua School in Parma, the parish announced repairs have been started, but the full use of the building may take months to restore.

The restoration

Wednesday morning, the school's principal, Patrick Klimkewicz, was helping his staff determine what could be salvaged. Investigators say the weekend fire ignited in the basement of the K-8 grade building and flames consumed several classrooms on the main floor of the middle school wing.

“Because of the smoke damage and odor, we are losing a lot of stuff,” said Klimkewicz.

The school hopes to salvage and clean as much as possible, but he explained even some materials, textbooks and decorations in the elementary wing may have to be thrown out. A restoration work has started on the areas with the most damage, including walls and floors in a small section of the building. Crews are working to restore classroom fixtures, such as desks and equipment.

“Anything from my past nine years of teaching is gone, all of the sentimental things that my students had made me or given me or just memories are gone,” said Jasminne Wessel, whose classroom is one of the most heavily damaged.

Wessel, who teaches middle school social studies, grade 7 homeroom and is the school vice principal, said she and others are grappling with what investigators say is an intentionally set fire.

“Taking a student’s safe place, I don’t understand. I feel all of the emotions you can imagine with that, but what’s hardest for me is that’s kindergarten through 8th grade. They’re just there to have fun and to learn and to learn to socialize," she said.

Klimkewicz added, “I think that’s the hardest part is the school community, everybody is asking, 'Why would someone do this?'”

Both staff members pointed to the outpouring of community support as a silver lining to the misfortune. On Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Parma Heights branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library will be acting as a drop-off location for school supplies to replenish what was lost in the fire.

“It’s really been a blessing" Klimkewicz said. "[The support is coming from] not just from other schools, but families, friends of families, just people in the community. It’s overwhelming.”

Recently shuttered St. Bridget of Kildare School, also located in Parma, is opening its doors as a temporary space for the St. Anthony of Padua School.

"St. Bridget of Kildare Parish here in Parma and their pastor, Fr. Rob Wisniewski, has graciously invited the entire St. Anthony of Padua student body and teachers to use their recently closed school building for in-person learning for the remainder of the school year," Fr. Dale Staysniak of St. Anthony of Padua Parish said.

Wessel, who was touring the building with other teachers Wednesday afternoon, said, “The building is immaculate, it’s beautiful. They’ve kept it just so perfect. And I really think our students, our families are going to be surprised and realize even more how blessed they are when they walk in."

St. Anthony of Padua School administration is tentatively planning to hold an orientation at St. Bridget of Kildare next Thursday and resume classes in the temporary space the following day.

The St. Anthony of Padua campus includes the elementary school, Padua Franciscan High School and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.

“We’re going to take it day by day, hour by hour. And we’re going to make it and we’re going to be stronger because of it,” Wessel said.

The fire

Firefighters responded to St. Anthony of Padua School Saturday around 10 a.m. after a maintenance worker discovered the fire and called 911.

Firefighters found heavy smoke coming from the basement and first floor of the elementary school, which was unoccupied at the time.

Parma received mutual aid from at least four other nearby departments. Crews were able to prevent the fire from spreading and causing more damage. The State Fire Marshal responded to help with the investigation and later ruled the fire an arson. Investigators are asking for the public's help in identifying the person or people responsible.

Anyone with information on the person or persons responsible is asked to contact the State Fire Marshal tip line at 800-589-2728, Parma Police Detective Marc Karkan at 440-887-7323 or the Crime Stoppers Hotline at 216-252-7463.

A cash reward is available for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

RELATED: Fire at St. Anthony of Padua Elementary School in Parma ruled arson; investigators seeking info

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