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School fire treated as suspicious

Thursday 3 Jan 2013 5:20 p.m.

Police and fire investigators are treating a blaze at an Invercargill school overnight as a crime scene.

The suspected arson destroyed much of a block of classrooms at James Hargest College early this morning.

Morning rain in Invercargill helped ease chances of a flare-up after fire ripped through the technology block at James Hargest.

“We've got four of seven classrooms, they're pretty much totally written off,” says Al Pannett, deputy principal.

“In fact, I suspect they'll put a bulldozer through them, rather than rebuild that.”

Fire crews were called to the college just before 6am when the blaze had already swept through two classrooms.

Major building renovations were underway, but police and investigators believe the fire was deliberately lit.

“There are some circumstances around this fire that that would lead towards the possibility that it is,” says Mike Cahill, fire investigator. “The police are now involved.”

The loss of C block will mean juggling for space when classes resume. James Hargest has over 1,900 students, with alumni including Olympic rowers Nathan Cohen and the Uru brothers.

There was one positive for the school - hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment had been moved out of the block before redevelopment work began.

But one teacher who lives nearby found it hard to watch as firefighters battled the blaze.

“Dreadful,” says Sue Donkin, junior campus teacher.

“I keep thinking of teachers whose resources might have been lost, so perhaps that's one of the good things about it being in this block - it’s uninhabited at the moment, it's not personal resources and things that have gone.”

The cost of rebuilding could be up to $1 million, with hopes work may start early in the new school year.

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