Despite the Tea Fire’s destruction of several buildings on the Westmont College campus, classes may restart as early as Wednesday, less than a week after 800 students huddled in the gym while fire ravaged their campus. In a one-way conference call Saturday afternoon, November 14, Westmont President Gayle Beebe said he and other executive staffers will wait until after the faculty meets on Monday, to confirm that date. The campus’s reopening will also depend on which parts of the burn area are still under evacuation orders, Beebe said, and on the judgment of fire officials. When the campus is reopened, it is likely that students will be escorted in, said Beebe. Westmont is currently is under guard at both of its gates, Beebe told parents, and a private guard is also roaming the grounds.
Beebe said the college is developing an ombudsman program and in other ways working to “minimize damage on all fronts including the grading front.” Consideration will be given to students under timelines for projects, for example, or whose academic work was consumed by the fire. Beebe urged parents to join the Parent Council in order to help faculty and students resume their lives.
Between 35 and 50 dorm rooms were burned, Beebe reported, and 14 faculty members lost their on-campus homes. A 15th instructor lost a home off campus. Only one vehicle was destroyed; two others were smoke-damaged. Several classrooms were also lost, but Beebe expressed confidence that there would be plenty of room to convene classes in the Founders dining room and other still-standing campus buildings.
Many in the community have offered rooms for displaced students, and one of the questions he and his staff will be addressing between now and Monday is “how to retrofit some of housing temporarily so students don’t have to move off campus.”
The college will proceed as scheduled with its master plan for development, having received the permit to begin work on it on the day before the Tea Fire ravaged the campus.
A second conference call at 9 p.m. on Monday night, November 17, will be two-way, so all parties can converse rather than just listen.