Construction crews race to refurbish fire-ravaged school by opening day

CREATED Aug 14, 2014 - UPDATED: Aug 14, 2014

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RACINE -- Like a big term paper, this project takes time and it comes with a due date.

Construction crews are racing to complete a major refurbishment of Mitchell Elementary School in Racine, which was torched by an electrical fire on February 27.
 
The fire, ruled accidental, tore through the gym; smoke and soot stained most of the hallways and classrooms.
 
Bryan Arnold, Director of Buildings and Grounds for the Racine Unified School District, tells TODAY'S TMJ4 that insurance covered more than 90 percent of the $8 million project.
 
"We had a lot of work that we had to do get the building ready for the start of the school year," Arnold explains. "Pretty much everything you see here has been gutted one way or another and put back together."
 
In total, crews sifted through more than 20 classrooms and replaced ceilings, lights and tile floors. Contractors also scrubbed clean all the furniture and then reinforced heating and plumbing pipes.
 
"When you first see it you think, 'What are we going to do?'"Arnold recalls. "After the initial shock wears off, you get started and see what you have to get done and you get comfortable in what you can accomplish and get done."
 
Mitchell Elementary students will be able to return to school by September 2, the first day of classes. 
 
Some work, however, still remains: Arnold says the new gym won't be completed until October, but he says it will be worth the wait. The new facility will include a stage, multi-purpose room and cafeteria. 
 
For the first time as well, the school will have an elevator to accommodate those who need wheelchair assistance.