A fire broke out in early morning on Tuesday, May 7, at the École régionale Notre-Dame in Notre Dame de Lourdes. So, far it's determined to be accidental.

Francophone School Division Superintendent Alain Laberge explains it happened after the janitor arrived.

"He started everything, like mechanical, electrical and turned on the switch, and the fire started in the gymnasium. It went to the gym mats, and he had to phone the fire department. They came over and they doused everything, but the damage was done by but the smoke. The gymnasium floor is a total loss. It's one of these schools that had a wooden ceiling. So, part of the wooden ceiling was also burnt; not totally, not completely. So, we have to go over the mechanical systems in the near future, the electrical systems, and everything, and make sure that everything is working fine."

He notes students did not attend school Wednesday, and just deiced to change plans that initially would see classes start Thursday.

"We are transferring our students to the arena that's just 50 feet away from the school. But it took time for teachers to get all the desks, the chairs, the boards, and the Internet. We wouldn't be ready for Thursday. We have sent a letter home to parents asking for them to send their students to school only on Friday." 

fireF​​​​​​ire and smoke damage in the gym

He notes estimates of damage costs are hard to pin down at the moment, but insurers were present Wednesday working with the school team. He says it will probably range over millions of dollars.

"We have the secondary pavilion -- the high school pavilion -- and for the last three or four years, we've had the Grade 7 and 8s located there. For the next few weeks, we hope, maybe a few months, we'll have the Grade 7 and 8s go back to the elementary pavilion and we'll keep the 9: to 12 in the arena,"  adds Laberge

He notes in summary, something happened with the janitor when he turned on the power that morning. 

"We thought it was something that came out from an outlet after debriefing with janitor with the fire department. It seemed like when he turned on the electrical powers everywhere -- the lights in the gym and everything -- the fire just started." 

Laberge thanks the local fire department, parents, and all the school community for their help. 

"We received a lot of phone calls from parents and emails from parents that are offering help offering places to relocate our students which is greatly appreciated."

Notre Dame Fire Brigade Chief Norman Lesage says the alarms came in at 7:40 Tuesday morning from 911 stating there was a general alarm which quickly got updated to smoke coming from the building.

"We received the call and probably were on scene within five or six minutes of the call. Upon scene, we entered the front of the school, quickly notified that the smoke was coming from the gymnasium corner, or the south end of the school. So, we relocated to the south side and proceeded with interior attack or search to locate the cause of fire."

lesageChief Norman Lesage in front of the gymnasium

He adds, as of the interview, damages were estimated to be at $2.5 million, and were mostly smoke damages. 

"The gymnasium does have structural damage and fire damage to. Right now, the cause of fire is under investigation. OC has deemed it accidental, so no arson. Chances are, nothing. It's accidental at the moment but still under investigation."

Principal Daniel Couture works at the elementary aspect of the school across the street from the high school pavilion, and further outlines plans for the the relocation of some of the students.

"We've decided to take all the students from the high school and separate them into spaces that we have available here at the elementary, because it's a different building on the other side of the street. For those that don't know, Notre Dame was an elementary school before, and there was a high school, and it was amalgamated several years ago. So, we're all under the same flag. So the 7/8s are going to come to the elementary school in the art room, and other other spaces that were available and which makes it that only our 9 to 12s have to be in the arena. And there's enough space for them in the arena. We would rather keep the kids closer to home if possible. The arena is not far. So that's why we kept the 7/8 here and the 9-12s a little bit farther away." 

Couture says the school division gave giving them some technology to set classes up at the arena Wednesday. Volunteers have offered their help by emails from families willing to help. However, he says they don't want too many people to overload the work area, which he notes is a good thing. 

"Fortunately for us, kids will be at school every day and we've looked at their course loads and, basically, every class will continue as per normal. We don't have access to some locations like our our computer lab. So, there are some programs that won't be able to be done as efficiently. But for the vast majority of things, we believe that from here till the time we can move in again, the students will have access to a proper education." 

Couture adds it was a very quick turnaround, while he and the vice principal, Valerie, worked really well together in making plans.

"She was busy doing some exploration into options while I was doing other things. Then we came back together and the plan formed quickly. We have a pretty flexible team which makes the job a lot easier."