Alexis Korr (center) organizes boxes of books in the library at Darrington Elementary School with friends Mikah Dewberry and Kayla Misanes on Thursday. Class preparations were curtailed for weeks after vandals broke in and tore apart classrooms, broke windows, and sprayed fire extinguishers everywhere. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Darrington comes together in wake of vandals’ destruction

DARRINGTON — A month after a nearly $1 million vandalism spree at two Darrington schools, volunteers in the tight-knit mountain town Thursday helped teachers set up their classrooms.

They expect to finish in time for the students’ arrival next week.

Cherie Noble’s kindergarten classroom was hit hard. She was in the process of moving from Vancouver to Darrington for a new teaching job when she heard the news.

On July 30, three young vandals reportedly broke into the elementary school and trashed the property. School officials said they also had painted graffiti and shattered windows at the nearby high school.

Two girls, ages 13 and 14, and a boy, 10, allegedly spent about six hours in the elementary school that morning. Every window in the building except for two were broken. One of the girls was seen on surveillance footage holding a metal pipe, according to a probable cause affidavit. A trophy case and fish tank were destroyed. Noble said many kindergartners were worried about the fish. The school now has a new tank full of tiny fish.

The trio reportedly emptied fire extinguishers throughout the school. A sink in Noble’s classroom was plugged and the faucet was left running. Several rooms and the hallway flooded with about four inches of water.

The preliminary cost of repairs was estimated at $500,000. Once contractors began work, that estimate quickly increased to nearly $1 million, said McKenzie Boyd, business manager with the Darrington School District. Insurance is expected to cover the repairs.

People in town offered help after hearing of the break-in, but the initial damage was too severe. The district had to hire professionals to repair the building before it was safe for teachers and volunteers to go inside.

Contractors worked every day and into the night.

Glass shards from the windows were found in the carpet, which was replaced. Much of the front entryway was redone after the water had ruined floor tiles and soaked the drywall. The air ducts had to be cleaned because powder from the fire extinguishers had gotten into the nooks and crannies of the building.

They painted the last coat of wax on the new tile floor late Wednesday.

On Thursday, students, families and teachers were walking the halls again. More than 25 volunteers had signed in within the first hour since the doors were opened. Superintendent Buck Marsh carried rolls of carpet over his shoulder. Athletes on the high school football team sorted toys and puzzle pieces in a preschool classroom. Each item had to be washed individually after the flooding, and had gotten mixed up in boxes.

Tysen Nations and Jonny Romero, both 13, grew up in Darrington. Nations and his father were taught by the same second-grade teacher. He and Romero remember once sitting in the preschool classroom as students themselves.

Eileen Porch, a teacher who retired in June, returned to help Noble get settled in her new classroom. Supplies were piled on tables and stuffed in bags. Boxes towered over the tables built to accommodate short legs.

“I’m not panicking because of her,” Noble said.

Teachers typically spend a couple of weeks before the first day of school getting their classroom and lesson plans in order. This year, they have a few days.

“I didn’t think we were going to open in time,” Principal Tracy Franke said. “Thank you to the community for the support. I know they had to be patient.”

Porch spent the day sifting through supplies with Noble to see what they could salvage. Before she retired in June, she had taught for 34 years in Darrington.

“I was extremely saddened by the devastation,” Porch said. “I knew the children. I’ve seen them grow up. It’s very hard to comprehend.”

The 13-year-old has been charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree malicious mischief. Her trial has been scheduled for October. The other two kids were released to family. School administrators are now considering a security alarm, Boyd said.

Porch worried that all of the teaching supplies she gathered over her career had been damaged. She had left them for Noble to use. Porch was happy to see most of the materials were untouched, including the games for the kids.

“I can have a sigh of relief,” she said. “Now we’re trying to make it a better place for this new group of kids.”

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com.

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