Jo Jackson is a playgroup assistant for a Pinewood pre-school group which has used the school facilities for more than 20 years, and she says the effects of the fire are far-reaching.
“The school is very much a community centre and focal point for people — it’s set right in the middle of an estate so everyone’s affected,” she said.
“There were a lot of children at the school on the night it was burnt down and they were very, very upset.
“I saw teenagers there who were quite distressed because it was their first school. The whole thing is heartbreaking for everyone involved.”
Two boys aged ten and 11 were arrested shortly after the fire began on March 27 at around 6.45pm, and were released on bail pending further inquiries.
Police believe a group of children set fire to a bin next to the school and the flames quickly spread out of control to engulf the entire school.
Around 80% of the school was destroyed in the blaze and the remaining 20% has been rendered unusable, leaving council staff to search for alternative arrangements for the children after the Easter holidays.
A total of 57 children attend the playgroup and many were distraught at the destruction of their work. Mrs Jackson said: “All of our toys and paperwork have been destroyed as well as the children’s work.
“They had been making eggs in the run-up to Easter and many were upset that they had been burnt.
“They were also a bit confused and upset because they thought we lived in the building and that something may have happened to us.
“It is very frightening for them.”
Vandals had regularly targeted Pinewood Infant School in the weeks leading up to the fire, although few could have predicted such devastating consequences.
“We had the police out the Friday before the fire,” said Mrs Jackson. “Our play equipment had been vandalised again — our shed has been jumped on and damaged many times.”
Parents had regularly complained to the police
and council regarding the increasing amount of youths hanging around at the school after hours.
Parent and local resident Simon Wright has a daughter who has attended the school since September and he had noticed the problems the school had with vandals.
Furious that the problem had been allowed to escalate, he said: “There seemed to have been a complete lack of interest from the police and the council.
“Perhaps if the complaints had been taken seriously this could have been avoided.
“However I am happy for my daughter to continue her education in a portable building at Pinewood because I think it is a lovely school and it offers her a good education.”
Local Fernhill councillor John Marsh agreed there had been problems at the school in the past.
He said: “There has been a fair bit of vandalism at the school that has been going on for a long time.
“They mainly damaged play equipment and the school building by breaking the windows.
“Unfortunately this is an ongoing problem that
affects many schools in the area — it was not unique to Pinewood School.”
Cllr Marsh added that his present main aim was to engage in talks with the county council on rebuilding the school.
Hampshire County Council has organised temporary classrooms to be placed on the playground at Pinewood Infants for when the children return after the Easter break.
Two classrooms not damaged in the fire are also going to be used for teaching and a large portable building will act as the main hall to ensure the school can still operate as normally as possible.
The language impairment unit, playgroup and community group have also been provided with temporary accommodation.
A practical guide has also been issued to parents giving them support in helping their children cope with the distress of the incident.