Students of Lakota school that caught fire to have classes at West Chester church

Nearly 500 Hopewell Junior students were left without a meeting spot when the school caught fire Monday.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

WEST CHESTER TWP. — When a fire on Monday tore through Hopewell Junior School in the Lakota Local School District, Principal Jeff Rouff said they were left in quite the predicament as nearly 500 students and 30 to 40 staff members had nowhere to go.

“The nightmare kind of begins and then you start to assess, OK, how big of a deal are we looking at?” Rouff said.

He learned the fire was a pretty big deal and would require extensive repairs before students could come back into the building.

“Families start reaching out and I think the hardest thing is looking at them and saying I don’t know yet,” Rouff said.

Alex Mahaffey, the lead pastor at West Chester Nazarene a few blocks away, immediately decided to welcome the school into his facility.

“When somebody reached out to us, we said that’s a no-brainer,” Mahaffey said. “We’re here to serve.”

Mahaffey said school administration toured the church Thursday and teachers began preparing makeshift classrooms on Friday.

“It’s something that they can use and keep the kids in-person and connecting with their teachers,” Mahaffey said. “I know my son will love being back.”

Mahaffey has four kids in the Lakota School District including a seventh-grade son attending Hopewell Junior.

Rouff said teachers will go through a dry run of a school day at the church on Monday and then welcome students back for in-person classes for the first time Tuesday.

It could be a week and a half before students are welcomed into a portion of their actual school building, and it could take more than a month before the full school is accessible.

Mahaffey said the church would be open to students for as long as they need.

“We’re here for as long as it needs to go,” he said.

In the meantime, the Hopewell Junior PTO has established a fundraiser to help pay for repairs.

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