No cause yet for Oak Crest Middle School fire

Oak Crest Middle School’s administration building was completely gutted by a fire that started in the early morning hours of Oct. 29 at the Balour Drive campus.

San Dieguito Union High School District Interim Superintendent Eric Dill said that if there is any silver lining to the fire, it’s that the district has already been planning a major renovation of the Oak Crest administration building under Prop AA, set to begin in 2018.

“At this point, we don’t have a cause for the fire,” Dill said during an update at the Nov. 3 board meeting. “The sheriffs’ investigation is ongoing and they have not shared anything with us to indicate any cause or suspects or anything of that nature. We’re just letting them do their thing and staying out of the way.”

SDUHSD Trustee Amy Herman, Vice President Joyce Dalessandro and President Beth Hergesheimer all visited the campus last week and found the interior damage to school to be “shocking,” seeing the melted file cabinets and the destruction left behind. The board members were grateful that the fire did not impact classroom spaces and that the district responded so quickly to ensure students were back to school on Monday without any disruption.

Staff was already working in their temporary offices on Monday and Hergesheimer said it helped that it was Halloween and students were mostly excited about their costumes.

According to Dill, the fire started in the counseling area of the administration building around 3:40 a.m. on Oct. 29. District Maintenance Supervisor Jim Mitroff was the first district staff member on the scene. He called Dill, who arrived before 6 a.m. to find the San Diego County Sheriff’s arson investigator was already there but hadn’t gone into building yet, still waiting for the firefighters to finish up their work. The Encinitas Fire Department received assistance on the two-alarm fire from the Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Carlsbad fire departments.

“There was substantial damage to the building, the counseling area is pretty much gutted,” Dill said. “There was heat and smoke damage through the rest of the building.”

Under their Prop AA projects, the district had already planned to remodel the interior of the administration building, upgrade power and bandwidth and renovate the bathrooms to make them more compliant.

“It looks like we’ll accelerate that administration building remodeling project, the question is how much demolition will be done,” Dill said.

Insurance will pay for the district to reconstruct the building as it was and Prop AA funding will support “above and beyond work.” Contractors and architect Frisco White were on campus last week, reviewing whether the district should let the building stand and renovate the inside or if the building is damaged enough that it will be demolished.

Dill said he will keep the board updated as they decide which direction to take with the building.