In a small breakout room in the resource centre of Kapunda High School, principal, Mr David Marino sits down behind a modest student desk, a laptop in front of him and not much more.
“We’re absolutely making the best of this situation,” he said with a smile.
It’s a far cry from the stately principal’s office he only occupied for less than a term inside the school’s historic administration building, ‘Eringa’, before it was destroyed by fire, following a blaze which started in a neighbouring classroom on March 29.
“It was very unexpected and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone,” said David of the stressful experience he and staff went through over those initial hours and days following the fire.
“But having such a strong network and community here, a great Education Director in Kathryn Bruggemann, and the Department for Education being really supportive of us has made it workable for us, and certainly every day we take small steps forward.”
Small steps, like having school bells re-installed as of last week, so students can once again hear the signal for class to begin.
And last Wednesday, the school’s network fibre was restored, meaning a ready internet and network connection for staff and students.
Resources once taken for granted, but now flag as significant milestones along the school’s road to recovery from the fire.
A road, David admits, that will stretch far into the future.
“They’re still assessing the state of things,” he said, explaining Eringa is fenced off to all except expert assessors, heritage architects and engineers.
There still hasn’t even been an opportunity for staff to get into the building to assess the status of archives and school records stored in the basement.
“There’s lots of work happening behind the scenes to assess the building and make it safe, and also develop plans on the next steps, whatever that looks like for the space and the building,” David added.
It was an “around the clock” effort in the days directly after the fire just to get the school back ‘online’ so students could return to face to face learning the following Monday.
One item retrieved from Eringa’s charred bowels was the school’s server, a remarkable effort by the ITC department, working closely with the CFS.
“They were able to dry that out over a number of days and revive it,” said David.
“Which meant, working throughout those three days and the weekend, we had our DayMap system back on for Monday to be ready for students.”
Help also came from the Education Department in the form of laptops, wireless internet and mobile phones for staff, and talks are currently in progress for new transportable buildings to be delivered to replace, at least temporarily, the offices and classrooms lost to the fire.
But support for the school has come from further than just official sources, and manifested in many ways.
“The outreach from the community and other schools has been amazing, sending us things for students, for staff, morning teas, well wishes,” said David.
“We did an ANZAC Day ceremony (last) week, and we borrowed a flagpole from the Kapunda Musical Society, and a flag from Kapunda Primary School.
“We’re really getting lots of great support from the whole community, so that we can operate and do what we do, which is teaching and learning.”
David says he has been especially proud of the students of Kapunda High School, and the resilience they have shown in the face of the Eringa tragedy.
“They’ve been excellent at supporting one another. They’ve been really positive, and proud of our school,” he said.
“End of last term, we finished with 119 students achieving individual awards for academic excellence.
“So despite COVID, despite the fire, students are absolutely striving to achieve their best, which is a real positive.
“Kapunda High School staff have also been amazing in how they have rallied to the cause of support for students by thinking innovatively and creatively.”
As for Eringa itself, David said it could still be some time before the true cost of the damage is revealed, which was estimated at $2 million, and just what the next phase will entail.
“I think there’s community and local support to restore the building, that’s certainly the sentiment,” he said.
“It has huge school significance, as well as state and national significance.
“I guess it depends on what all the different options are. Everything has a cost, so we’re hoping to hear something in the near future.”
For now, it stands as a ghostly observer in a groundswell of recovery.
“We still have a journey ahead of us,” said David.
“Every day we’re taking good steps forwards, and we’ll have some work for some time, but we’re certainly in a great position.”