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UPDATE: Public's help sought in fire investigation

A United Fire crewman adjusts the aerial ladder about 5:30 a.m. to enable more firefighters roof access as fire continued to burn in some layer of the roof. Steve Dzubay photos.2 / 2

ROBERTS -- Officials with the St. Croix Central School District say extensive fire damage at the Roberts elementary school will prevent it from reopening before the end of the school year. By Monday, district leaders expect to have a plan as to how youngsters will finish out the year.

Fire crews responded to a suspected arson fire at St. Croix Central Elementary School at around 3:44 a.m. Tuesday, April 30..

According to a news release sent out at around 9 p.m. Tuesday, by Police Chief Dan Burgess, arson investigators have confirmed there was forced entry into the school building. Investigators are asking anyone may have seen anything unusual on the night of Monday, April 29, to contact the St. Croix County Dispatch Center at 715-386-4701. Callers may remain anonymous.

The school office area and other sections of the school were heavily damaged. Even after two hours of fighting the blaze, fire was still smouldering in the ceiling of the school.

During the 6 p.m. news conference, District Supeintendent David Bradley said the damage will affect the renovations to the school planned for summer of 2013. The district will be meeting with its architect later in the week to determine how contruction plans will be affected.

Numerous local fire departments responded to the fire scene to help fight the blaze, including Roberts-Warren, United Fire units from Hammond and Baldwin, New Richmond, River Falls, Hudson, St. Joseph and Lower St. Croix. Units from Spring Valley and Ellsworth were requested for manpower around 7 a.m. to assist with clean-up and allow other firefighters to leave for their jobs.

Roberts-Warren Chief Jeff Vogt said about 90 firefighters were involved.

Parents of 624 students at the K-4 school were advised of the incident via electronic messaging at about 5:30 a.m.

Bradley stated, via a message posted on the district's web site Tuesday afternoon, that classes at the elementary will be cancelled for the rest of the week as the district assembles a plan to help students finish out the school year.

"Fire officials have advised us that it is not realistic to hold classes in the building for the remainder of the school year. With this in mind, classes have been cancelled for the elementary through the end of the week. Classes will continue as scheduled at the Middle School and High School.

"A district emergency response team has been assembled and has begun working on next steps. It is our goal to have alternative classroom sites for elementary students beginning classes on Monday, May 6th.

"We plan to provide daily updates concerning this situation on our website and through our AlertNow notification system.

"The Board Learning Meeting scheduled for Monday, May 6th at 6:30 p.m. in the Middle School Library, will be devoted to providing the SCC School Board and the general public with an update on our latest plans for dealing with this very unfortunate happening.

"We want to thank you in advance for your support, understanding, patience, prayers and offers of assistance," Bradly concluded.

At the 6 p.m. news conference, Bradley said the district has a lead on a location which could accommodate all 624 SCC elementary school students. He said the location will be announced Wednesday.

"It's not going to be an ideal school setting," Bradley said. However, he said it will provide the students a place to learn for the remainder of the school year. Teachers will meet at 8 a.m. Wednesday to plan their classes in the new setting.

More details about the fire and investigation will be posted as they become available.