PUPILS from Pinewood Infant School, which burnt down in an arson attack more than a month ago, have returned to their lessons in mobile classrooms.
The fire devastated most of the school, leaving only three classrooms untouched by the flames, casting doubts over its future and whether pupils could ever return.
Yet over the past four weeks Hampshire County Council has redeveloped the site and brought in portable classrooms to house the children and allow them to continue lessons.
The burnt buildings have all been demolished, and five temporary double classrooms put in their place to be used for teaching, a school hall and office accommodation.
New furniture has also been delivered and the playground landscaped and resurfaced.
Accommodation has been provided for the language impairment unit, community group and playgroup, who all used the facilities at the school.
Headteacher Sue Harris said: “I am delighted with how our new school has come together in these temporary buildings and am sure pupils will soon settle into their new learning environment.
“My thanks go to all those who have helped to get the school up and running so quickly after what has been a very distressing time for us all.”
Pinewood Infant School was burnt down in a suspected arson attack. Someone set fire to a bin next to the buildings on March 27 at around 6.45pm.
At the height of the blaze, 11 engines and 65 firefighters were battling against the flames, with one crew member sustaining a sprained ankle during the incident.
Eight per cent of the school was completely destroyed, leaving teachers and pupils distraught as school work and vital paperwork were obliterated, leaving them to start from scratch. Many pupils live nearby in the Pinewood Park estate and were overcome by what they saw.
Jo Jackson, assistant at the playgroup, said: “I was there on the night it burnt down and a lot of the children were very, very upset.
“I saw teenagers there who were quite distressed because it was their first school. The whole thing was heartbreaking for everyone involved.”
Two local boys aged ten and 11 were arrested shortly after the fire began, and have been released on bail pending further inquiries.
The school had been regularly targeted by vandals in the weeks leading up to the fire, with youths damaging school property, playing equipment and spraying graffiti.
Parent and local resident Simon Wright was furious that the problems 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, Pinewood Infants is a lovely school and I am pleased for my daughter to continue her education there in the portable classrooms.”
Yet doubt is still cast over the future of the school after it was revealed that there is a huge number of surplus infant school places in Farnborough and Pinewood is only just over half full.
In 2000 education bosses estimated that by 2003 there would be significant drop in the number of four-year-olds in Farnborough — around 25% — leaving infant schools struggling to fill places.
Although Hampshire County Council is unable to confirm if the school will definitely be rebuilt in the future, county councillor Don Allen gave assurance that all the children who started their education at the school in September 2003, will complete their three years at Pinewood.
A survey has been undertaken to ascertain pupil numbers and needs together with the school place requirements in the area from 2004 to determine the size of a new school.
Chairman of governors at Pinewood, Mildred Stocks, was delighted with the news. In a statement she said: “The governing body is most grateful to the outstanding contribution made by the county council and its many contractors who have produced a school from ashes in four weeks.
“We want to thank the staff, parents, friends and local traders who have helped bring our school back to serve the needs of our children.”
Headteacher Sue Harris is pictured outside Pinewood Infant School's temporary classrooms.