Historic and beloved school destroyed by fire

The Kilbuck School erupted in flames on the morning of November 3rd, 2015. Damaged in the fire was the Ayaprun Elitnaurvik Immersion School and the Kuskokwim Learning Academy - home to many of Bethel and the surrounding area's school children. photo by George Estrela

by Greg Lincoln

The Ayaprun Elitnaurvik Immersion Charter School and the Kuskokwim Learning Academy, housed in the former Kilbuck School building in Bethel, was destroyed by an early morning fire on Tuesday, November 3, 2015.

Quyana to the emergency crews and all involved in putting out the fire – your brave and selfless services are so greatly appreciated!

As students and staff, parents and community members, we have been deeply affected by this untimely devastation. In the wake of the fire, our community has pulled together in a tremendous show of support for the children who were displaced by this fire. Donation accounts, a spaghetti feed, a fiddle dance, emergency meetings, and messages of hope, love, and support have poured in.

The fire was reported to the Bethel Fire Department at approximately 3:41 a.m. Firefighters responded to Fifth Avenue for a report of smoke and flames emerging from the Kilbuck School. Firefighters deployed hose lines and extinguished the fire.

On November 3 at 6:49pm, Superintendent Dan Walker of the Lower Kuskokwim School District released the following statement:

“At approximately 3:30am on Tuesday, November 3, fire alarms alerted staff of smoke in the Kilbuck School building. The staff at Kuskokwim Learning Academy notified Bethel Fire Department. Bethel Fire Department responded to the call. At some point the fire traveled into the ceiling and the situation became too dangerous for firefighters to continue to fight the fire from the interior. The fire consumed a major portion of the building, which was constructed in 1962. At this stage, it is too early to determine cause or extent of the damage.

“There were two schools housed in the Kilbuck School building. The Kuskokwim Learning Academy (KLA), has approximately 125 students grades 9-12 of which 40 students reside in a dorm setting. The Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, Yup’ik Language Immersion School was also housed in the facility with approximately 175 students in grades K-6.

For the interim, the district will house the KLA students at the Yuut Yukon Dorms and conduct classes on the Yuut campus.

“The district is looking at some promising options to house the AE students. A decision is anticipated by the end of the week.LKSD would like to thank the Bethel volunteer firefighters for their work and split second decisions that lessened the loss of property.”

On November 4 at 5:47pm Ayaprun School principal Sam Crow issued the following declaration.

“Good afternoon, this is Sam Crow with great news about our school. I am very pleased to announce we have found a temporary home. We will begin having school on Monday, November 9 at the following temporary locations: Grades Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd will have class at the District Office. Grades 4, 5, & 6 will have 4 classrooms at Gladys Jung Elementary. Also, we have a new phone number. Our new school phone number is 545-1341. You can call or text your questions to 545-1341. Again, I am very happy to announce we will resume classes this Monday.”

Here is the latest from Superintendent Walker at our time of printing this isssue:

“The Kilbuck School building fire has been devastating, yet it is in circumstances like these that the humanity and generosity of our community is accentuated. The community of Bethel has been outstanding in support of the displaced students and staff of Ayaprun Elitnaurvik and Kuskokwim Learning Academy. The donations of time, space, and money that have come from organizations, individuals and families has been significant in this time of transition. The Lower Kuskokwim School District is honored to be in a community with such commitment to youth and education. Through an outpouring of support and partnerships a temporary solution has been identified.

“Kuskokwim Learning Academy students will resume classes on Thursday, November 5 at Yuut Elitnaurviat. Classrooms at both Yuut Elitnaurviat and the Kuskokwim Campus of the University of Alaska have been made available. KLA boarding students are being housed at the Yuut Yukon Dormitory.

“Ayaprun Elitnaurvik students will resume school on Monday November 9, 2015. Classes for students will be held at the LKSD district office and Gladys Jung elementary. Parents will be notified of schedules and specific locations. This is a temporary arrangement until a long term solution is announced for the second semester. A long term solution to complete the school year is anticipated in the coming weeks.

LKSD appreciates all of the organizations that offered temporary space and other classroom support. The generosity and flexibility of staff and students at the accommodating facilities is greatly valued. Donations for classroom supplies and student clothing may be coordinated through Mary Noes or Sharon Wegner at 543-4886.”

On the day of the fire, the YK-Fitness Center offered a day of free swimming to show their love and support for the kids and families affected by the fire.

And on Friday, November 6th, Governor Bill Walker, Representative Bob Herron, and Senator Lyman Hoffman came to Bethel to tour the fire site and to meet with community leaders and school administration. They have issued a statement of condolences and pledged to help and assist the school district.

The City of Bethel will also be issuing an emergency declaration. They will be meeting on Nov. 10th and the Proclamation Emergency Declaration for the Fire At Kuskokwim Learning Academy/Ayaprun Elitnaurvik – Yup’ik Immersion Schools is on the agenda.

Ayaprun School will be celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. They hosted a bake sale on October 30th to help raise funds for their celebration. One Ayaprun parent said it well, “My kids love their school. Glad no one was hurt. But we will rebuild! It’s not the building that makes the school it’s the teachers, students and parents/volunteers who make the school. We love u!”


An aerial shot of the Kilbuck School fire  and billowing smoke taken via drone during the morning of Nov. 3rd. photo by George Estrela