Fire Destroys HLIS Admin Building
For over three weeks now, Highlands Lutheran International School (HLIS) has been in crisis mode. On Tuesday, October 16 at 1:15 a.m. someone intentionally burned down the administration block at the school including the offices, three classrooms, the library and bathrooms. Most classes were immediately suspended, but then, on Wednesday, October 24 at 4:00 a.m. there was a second arson attempt under the art room which, if successful, would have burnt down the mess hall and all of the attached buildings. After two weeks of suspension, school reopened on Monday, October 29, with classrooms rearranged due to the fire.
No one was injured in the administration building fire but the entire building burned to the ground. Several grade 11 students saw it first and were able to save important computers from the office with grades and financial records in them. A combined effort was also able to save nearby buildings from damage. According to one teacher the fire only lasted for about an hour. Interestingly, the concrete and stone wall near the building’s entry way, complete with metal cross, still stands in the ashes of the fire. While accusations and rumors abound, the cause of the fire in under investigation. Principal Neil Brown left the school on October 19, fearing his house may be the next target for fire.
In the aftermath of the fire, teachers, ancillary workers, the board chairman
Bonny Manuel and former board chair Pato Potane met and suspended school for two weeks for the safety of the students. Grade 8 and 12 students, however, continued to complete their external exams, with various faculty members present to supervise and support them.
Security guards noticed the beginning flames of a second fire early in the morning on Wednesday, October24. A bundle of clothes had been doused with diesel fuel and set on fire beneath the art room, and the guards were able to put it out before there was any serious damage. Throughout this sequence of events, Ambulini land owners have responded with suspicion, accusations and ambivalence. So far peaceful thinking has prevented further violent complications.
On October 26, Governor Ipatas and the provincial education board directed HLIS to resume classes for the sake of the students. Teachers met and decided to use Room 4 as the office, reception area, staff room, and temporary library. They also allocated room 5 for kinder, room 6 for grade 4 and room 7 for grade 3, with the remaining classrooms being used by grades 7, 9, and 11. The ICT lab has been allocated as a conference room where teachers can access Internet resources.
School reopened on Monday, October 29, with 42 students. 53 students came the next day with numbers increasing on succeeding days. Then on October 30, the Governor visited the school and met with teachers to encourage their efforts and promise financial assistance for operations and for reconstruction.
In the absence of principal Mr. Brown, vice principal Trevina Gima has assumed administrative leadership, and Lutheran Church missionary Dr. Martin Dicke is assisting in a support role. It is unclear at this point in time how reconstruction may or may not be supported. Efforts will surely involve a close assessment of the situation and possibly financial assistance from both the church and the Enga Provincial Government.