Mitchell middle school reopens to students on Tuesday

RACINE (WITI) -- Mitchell Middle School students return to Mitchell School and get back into the classroom on Tuesday, March 18th -- the first time they've had access to the school since fire ripped through the school's gymnasium early Thursday, February 27th. On Sunday, March 16th, a Racine church came together to provide one last show of support for students, and for Mitchell School. Meanwhile, FOX6 News got a tour of the school on Sunday afternoon.

Last Wednesday, March 12th, demolition crews were on scene at Mitchell School -- knocking down parts of the school that were damaged in the fire.

The fire was so intense, the gymnasium's roof collapsed -- and other parts of the school were damaged by smoke and water.

The middle school side of Mitchell School will be ready for students on Tuesday -- thanks to the efforts of hundreds of people working every day, around the clock since the fire.

"We worked around the clock for about 10 days. It was probably about 450 people," an individual with Paul Davis Restoration, which is handling repairs at the school told FOX6 News.

It was a joyful start to service at Secondary Missionary Baptist Church in Racine on Sunday, March 16th -- with many expressing sentiments of thanks.

"The community has been so generous and supportive," Lolli Haws, Superintendent of Racine Unified Schools said.

The church filled hearts and then bellies with a day of prayer, praise and pizza.

Pastor Mark Freeman says he and his congregation wanted to do something for the students displaced from their beloved school by fire.

"What we are hoping this will do is infuse them with some energy and some enthusiasm and when they go back into that classroom they will be charged up and ready to learn. (We wanted to) let them know that not only are we praying for them -- we want to participate in a tangible way, so we sent some things over in terms of books, notebooks and so forth so the students can know that they are part of our community and part of this family as well," Freeman said.

Parents who attended the event on Sunday morning say they're celebrating the students' return to school this week. They say the opportunity for prayer helped to put their minds at ease.

"It's very important for (the students) to know that they are protected going into that building. There are so many questions from the students. What will happen? Is our school safe?" parent JoAnn Hattix said.

Superintendent Haws reassured parents and students the school is safe.

"The work that has been accomplished -- cleaner than ever, better than ever. (On Saturday) night, we found out it passed all our environmental and safety standards by all the different inspectors. It's ready to go," Haws said.

Smoke and soot were cleaned up from classrooms -- and everything inside the classrooms has been cleaned. Every library book was sanitized and placed back on the shelf. Some tiling was replaced due to water damage, and a special wall was built. Inside the wall are machines that can move about 2,500 cubic feet of air per minute, to help contain the odor.

A crew member said on Saturday around midnight, the team finished waxing the new floors that went in to the school.

Students say they're ready to head back to school.

"I feel grateful and happy about it. I get to see my friends and the school and get back to learning," Nijeria Hunter said.

Mitchell School opens to staff members on Monday, March 17th -- and then students on Tuesday.

Haws says the school day will be extended for about 15 minutes for the rest of the school year in order to make up the time that was lost.

School officials anticipate the fire damage to the entire property to be repaired by next fall so elementary students can return then as well.

Elementary students are finishing out the school year at the formerly vacant Wind Point Elementary School.

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