Fire destroys dormitory at Crow Creek

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STEPHAN, S.D. - A lack of federal funding for upgrades to a Crow Creek High
School dormitory that housed 150 students was cited as a safety factor in
an April 24 fire that completely destroyed the building.

More than 30 students were in the building when the fire broke out. Up to
seven students were treated for smoke inhalation at a local hospital and
released.

Superintendent Scott Raue praised staff workers' efforts to rescue the
students. "If it wasn't for the efforts of some of our staff, it could have
been a lot worse," he noted.

Nearly 120 of the dorm's residents were off-campus, attending a field trip
at the time of the blaze.

The students lost all of their belongings, included prom dresses and suits,
graduation gowns, school materials, personal items and clothing.

Also lost in the fire were the cafeteria and mainframe computer system, but
contingency plans to rebuild the computer infrastructure are underway, Crow
Creek School spokesman Dean Buchanan said. He said he was confident in the
people who were rebuilding the system.

The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are
investigating the cause of the fire. The school is a BIA school run by the
Crow Creek Sioux tribe.

Fire fighters coming in from nearby towns encountered a problem when the
500,000-gallon water tank - designed to fight smaller fires - ran dry after
half an hour. Tanker trucks were sent to a nearby water pipeline to haul
water to replenish a pumper truck.

Crow Creek High School students come from across the upper Great Plains.

Raue said the school year will continue, mostly for non-dormitory students.
Some 600 middle school and high school students attend classes on the
campus.

"We want to stay as normal as possible, so we'll continue on with school,"
Raue said.

Some reports indicated that the school year would end for the year. Class
requirements have been fulfilled, some staff said; seniors would receive
diplomas and others would be transferred to the next grade level.

Raue met with Gov. Mike Rounds and staff members from Sen. John Thune's and
Sen. Tim Johnson's offices to discuss the school's future. The discussion
centered on what steps to take, but no specific plans were finalized. The
congressional staff said they would do whatever they could to resolve the
problems, according to Noah Pinegar, Johnson's assistant press secretary.

Buchanan said 9 out of 10 staff and faculty members are concerned about the
school's future. The Crow Creek Schools are near the bottom of the list for
BIA funding for building replacement, but with the congressional delegation
support, Buchanan said the hope is to have the school moved up the line.

"When we [lose] a major part of the campus we want to get something
underway as soon as possible. And as you look at the situation, we would
hope it would put somebody on alarm and put us in a better situation, with
fires and so forth," Buchanan said.

All buildings on the campus have been condemned to one degree or another,
Buchanan said.

This summer a gymnasium was up and running, Buchanan said. "It seemed like
everything would go well. It's a never-ending battle and we have to
continue rustling the leaves and shaking the tree for funding.

"Hopefully we will continue on. Things happen in good fashion and hopefully
everything will take a good turn for us."

Up to two years could pass before any funding is released for new
buildings.

The 45-year-old dormitory was built when the school was run by the Church
of the Immaculate Conception. It was taken over by the BIA and the tribe in
the 1990s.

A middle school and a high school are located on the Stephan campus.
Classrooms for the middle school were condemned and replaced by modular
units five years ago; classrooms used by high school students were
condemned for occupancy two years ago and modular units are now used as
classrooms.

The tribe itself is in deep financial trouble and is not able to fund
building replacement or remodeling. Condemned by the state fire marshal,
the elementary school in the town of Fort Thompson is still in use.

The now-destroyed dormitory had steel and iron rods inserted through the
building to keep the outer walls from crumbling. The classroom building
used by the high school also has rods extended through the building to hold
it together. Roof leaks and cracks in walls were part of the classroom
environment.