Education chiefs in Dundee have paid tribute to the commitment of teachers, pupils and the local community as they reflect one year on from the devastating blaze at Braeview Academy.
Bosses were forced to seal off classrooms and transfer youngsters to two other Dundee schools for months after flames engulfed the Berwick Drive campus last September.
Pupils have since returned to the school and are currently making use of a network portable cabins erected on its grounds, believed to be the largest temporary portable classroom set up ever built in Scotland.
Head teacher Lesley Elder recounted how she rushed to the scene after receiving a call at home to tell her emergency services were attempting to fight the growing fire. It later emerged every fire and police crew in the north of the city was called to the campus.
She said: “I came down the drive in my car and I couldn’t believe the roof was still alight. It looked to me at first as if the whole of the block was up in flames.
“The police were there and one of the PCs came down and took me away from the bottom because by then it was all cordoned off.
“For me, it was just a feeling of disbelief, I think. I couldn’t really believe it was happening and I was part of this scene.
“It was almost as if it was happening in slow motion. Maybe that was my brain trying to rationalise what I was seeing, which was my school going up in flames.”
Mrs Elder recalled how families, some of whom had attended lessons in the building for generations, gathered at the bottom of the brae. Some were in tears as they watched the school suffer extensive damage.
Paul Clancy, Dundee City Council’s executive director of children and families services, also attended and revealed how he began working with other leaders on a plan that evening while firefighters were still tackling the blaze.
He said: “We made a decision to meet at 8.15am the next morning but we had a fairly clear idea of what the solution was. We had worked that out as we were standing at the building.
“We knew the population of the school and where we had capacity in Dundee. The great thing about the educational environment in the city and the leadership is how they just pulled together.
“We set a target the next day to have the kids back within an educational setting within a week. It was important that we got the pupils back into a classroom as quickly as possible.”
Children and families convener Stewart Hunter had taken up his role just weeks earlier and only learned of the fire after his predecessor’s bus was directed away from the area.
He paid tribute to the hard work of teachers and staff across the three schools, who he said inspired him to believe a solution could be found in the immediate aftermath.
“The day after we met all the staff and obviously they were devastated because their school had gone on fire,” Mr Hunter said.
“But all their thoughts weren’t on the practical for them, it was ‘how do we support these kids’ and their whole focus was on the pupils and the school.
“We’d gone in there feeling a bit down and depressed because the school had just had the fire but I walked away thinking we can really achieve this because the staff are clearly up for it. That gave us such encouragement as we left the meeting that day.”