From the Ashes
A piece of Heritage’s history was lost forever recently when the University’s first permanent structure, Petrie Hall, burned to the ground on July 8. In sweltering temperatures reaching over 100 degrees, fire crews from five districts battled the blaze to prevent the fire from spreading to nearby buildings but could not save the hall.
Even as the fire burned, Heritage officials were deep in preparation to minimize the impact that the loss would have on students and their education. Two weeks of summer session still remained, yet several classrooms and computer labs were destroyed. Classes would have to be relocated. Students would need notification of the changes. An even more difficult situation was presented by the loss of the institution’s telecommunications and computer networks. Despite all the data being completely backed up, a new network—as well as the entire telephone system—would have to be built from the ground up.
“Everyone was focused on getting things up and running for our students as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Curt Guaglianone, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “This was a real test of our ability to think creatively to manage some pretty significant challenges in a very short time.”
Less than a day after the fire, the University was conducting business and holding classes with the help of cellular phones. Temporary quarters were also set up to house offices such as advising, admissions and financial aid.
By the start of the following week, access to the computer network was restored to the Arts and Sciences Center. The University’s quick actions enabled students to access all of their network-saved files in time for the end of summer semester. Network access was then restored building by building until the entire campus was back online by mid-August. The University replaced the lost classrooms, cafeteria and bookstore with portables located on property surrounding the campus.
All told, classes were only impacted the day after the fire, when a water issue forced Heritage to close a few hours early.
“Often it’s the challenges that provide the opportunity to learn about and achieve our potential.,” said Dr. Guaglianone. “This was Heritage University’s “opportunity”. There is no question that this institution has embraced this opportunity to make us stronger and better, and caused us to strive toward our potential like never before.”
He points to the reconstructed computer networks as an example. Heritage’s entire network, from the hardware to the fiber-optic cabling, is more advanced and offers “a quantum leap” in speed from where it stood before the blaze. When Heritage replaces Petrie Hall, the facilities will be improved as well.
Dr. John Bassett, Heritage president, affirmed that he and the University’s vice presidents, along with the board of directors, have started looking at what makes the most sense for the long-term physical growth of the University. “Obviously we need to address the lost classrooms, but where those are located and what they look like is not known quite yet. We do expect to have a foundational plan this fall,” he said.
Petrie Hall was constructed in 1926 and operated as McKinley Elementary School until the mid-1970s. In 1984, the Petrie Trust purchased the building and its surrounding 11.5 acres from the Toppenish School District on behalf of the University, which then renamed it “Petrie Hall” in honor of the Trust. In 1999 the facility went through major remodeling which included the construction of the cafeteria and student lounge, named “The Jewett Center” in honor of the late Yakima Valley philanthropist Helen Jewett.
Fire investigators were unable to pinpoint the cause of the fire but were able to identify that it started in an unoccupied attic area above the kitchen, which was part of the original construction.