Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Schools delay opening, hospital still open

St. Luke?s continues to have core staff on hand

Express Staff Writer

Smoke shrouds Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum after a Town Hall meeting to discuss the Castle Rock Fire. Hemingway, along with all public schools and The Community School, have delayed the start of the school year until Tuesday, Sept. 4. Carey schools are unaffected. Photo by David N. Seelig

Opening day for all public schools and for The Community School will be delayed until Tuesday, Sept. 4, due to the Castle Rock Fire that continues to char western Blaine County. Carey's school schedule remains unaffected.

In addition, all school-related activities, including the Wood River High School football game on Friday, have been canceled.

St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center south of Ketchum is still under mandatory evacuation. However, the emergency room is open and the core staff is on hand to assist in critical cases, said Tonia Bruess, coordinator for the hospital.

"Employees are on call and are being paid while not at work to ensure that if we have to perform an emergency operation, we can do so."

For all non-life-threatening emergencies, people are encouraged to go to the Hailey Medical Clinic in central Hailey.

The list of schools closed until next Tuesday include: Bellevue Elementary, Woodside Elementary, Hailey Elementary, Hemingway Elementary, Wood River Middle School, Wood River High School, Silver Creek Alternative School and The Community School.

"The district mainly wants to comply with the fire-fighting efforts," said Kate Heinecke, administrative assistant for the Blaine County School District. "The Community School and Wagon Days have both canceled plans—it was necessary we did the same."

The Community School Headmaster Andy Jones-Wilkins said the school is "just trying to circle the wagons and to be as supportive and as much a part of the community as we can."

He listed several reasons for delaying the first day of school. For one, the school did not want to add more traffic to the roads, especially state Highway 75. In addition, some students and staff have been forced to evacuate and Jones-Wilkins wanted to accommodate those placed in such a precarious position.

"There is such emotional and psychological aspect to all of this," Jones-Wilkins said. "Even for those who are not on mandatory evacuation, everyone is so distracted."

He said the first day of school should be full of excitement, not concern.

The Community School has moved its volleyball, soccer and cross-country events out of town because it didn't want other schools' buses to further congest the roadways; nor did it want to force students to compete in such poor air quality. All school-related outdoor events have also been canceled.

Athletic events for the public school district have also been canceled through the end of the week.

Blaine County School District staff are required to be in attendance on Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 29 and Aug. 30, for staff development, including data analysis.

"We encourage our staff to use the public busing system that has been put in place," Heinecke said.

Jones-Wilkins appeared to speak for the entire community when he said, "We owe a tremendous, tremendous debt of gratitude to the firefighters. On behalf of my school, we will do whatever we can to assist their efforts."

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