St. Rose School

Rebuild Becomes Ray of Light for St. Rose School

“At 2:00 AM in the morning I got a call from the school fire alarm,” recalls Kathy Ryan, Principal of Saint Rose Catholic School in Santa Rosa. “I was in denial at first; I thought it was a false alarm,” she continued. Regardless, Kathy and her husband got in their car to go check on the school.  When they were within a mile from the school, they came across standstill traffic and could not get close to their destination.  She says, “We could not move or go any further.” 

It was not until the very next day when Kathy would finally be able to finally see what happened to the school during the Tubbs Fire on October 8th, 2017. Obtaining the school’s security footage, Kathy was able to begin to see that the preschool exploded. The Sheriffs brought her in to school see the damage.  The nine-year-old preschool was leveled to ashes and the main school appeared to have significant damage to one classroom wing.

 “I knew I had to get a contractor quick,” said Kathy. Immediately, Kathy remembered Josh Grigg of GMH Builders, who had managed the construction of the school’s science lab just a year before.  She recalls, “When I contacted Josh, he said to me ‘I’ve been down there walking around. Do you think you could take us on? We need to get a team on board and ready to go before all the resource shortages.” She hired Josh and his team right then and there.

Josh and his team immediately developed a strategic approach to reopen the school as soon as possible.  Within days, GMH Builders orchestrated a move to a temporary campus in Santa Rosa. Interfacing with all the government entities, the team mobilized portable class room buildings and made fire life safety and security modifications to meet school occupancy requirements.  Kathy says, “We were out for three weeks and only lost 15 school days. We would not have been able to do this without Josh.”

In another stroke of bad luck, the balance of the school, suffered severe water damage just days after the fire. California American Water restored the water pressure to the neighborhood without first isolating the damaged campus. Activated fire sprinklers and damaged waterlines flowed unchecked while the area was still under mandatory evacuation resulting in flooding of the previously undamaged parts of the school. Fortunately, the school’s insurance company was both empathetic and generous, covering complete restoration of the building.

Actual construction began the first week of November, a little less than a month after the firestorm. The team began with a complete remediation of the smoke and water damage. By Thanksgiving, the kindergarten wing was demolished and the area isolated from the rest of the school. The team proceeded to replace all interior finishes including flooring ceilings, casework, wall finishes, whiteboards, and interior and exterior paint. Technology upgrades included new, state-of-the-art, interactive white boards with laser projectors. Within three months, the 20,000sf school was completely remediated, refreshed and ready to welcome students back to their home campus.

St. Rose School

St. Rose School

Once the main school was occupied, Josh and his team set their sights on the next phase, rebuilding the class room wing and preschool.  Working closely with Quattrocchi Kwok Architects (QKA) and the owner, they came up with a functional modern design while maintaining the charm of the original structure. “Josh and I had an understanding. I would be there when he really needed me,” says Kathy Ryan, who was focusing a tremendous amount of time managing offers of help and fundraising. Adding, “All the building stuff, I did not have to worry about it.”

“We had the best general contractors in the whole world. I’d come to see the construction, and everyone was happily working.  They were wonderfully kind. I wish everyone could see that”

Kathy Ryan, Principal of Saint Rose School

St. Rose Preschool

St. Rose Preschool

The team took great measures to ensure students would be minimally impacted by construction activities.  Noise barriers, safety precautions, traffic and circulation guidance, and dust mitigation are just some of the areas addressed to ensure little disruption to school activities.  With these measures in place, teams were able to build a new classroom wing and preschool building.  Work also entailed a PG&E service upgrade, HVAC upgrade, new lunch solar structure, two new age appropriate playgrounds, blacktop resurfacing, new basketball courts and ADA Parking upgrades. Describing the construction process, Kathy says, “I’d come to see the construction, and everyone was happily working.  They were wonderfully kind. I wish everyone could see that.”

With a tiny punch list, construction was complete in time for the new school year.  All vestiges of the fire were gone.  Students arrived with a red carpet greeting and the media created a splash. In describing her experience, Kathy says, “I’d like this story to be a ray of light for others.” Rebuilding Saint Rose was a shining example of what communities can achieve when they work together.  There is so much focus on the ravages of the fire that more people need to know that there is hope after tragedy.