It was the beginning of a new era for the Lookingglass community Monday night, as the Lookingglass School’s new gymnasium, library and cafeteria were officially opened to replace the historic building that was destroyed by fire on the night of Dec. 26, 2016.

An overflow crowd of nearly 200 people filled the new bleachers and lined the doors from outside the brightly lit gym. Across its shiny hardwood floor, Lookingglass Elementary School Principal Oriole Inkster stood in front of the school’s new stage and welcomed visitors along with a row of dignitaries. It was the first day back to school after the long Christmas break, for students in the district.

The school’s nearly 200 students had physical education classes in the old gym, and community groups borrowed it for sporting events and other events, and regular roller skating activities were held in the gym.

The school lost more than just its gymnasium space though. The building served as the school’s cafeteria, and housed the library. All its books burned, as did the school’s band instruments.

The celebration, said Inkster, was to honor those who made the new building a reality. Inkster recognized people from the Winston Dillard School Board and administration, the contractors that built the new structure, and she praised the firefighters for saving the rest of the school.

“They stood on top of the classroom building and they saved the building, and there’s bubbled paint and cracked windows up there to prove how close it came,” Inkster said. “So we’re very grateful to them that we still have the classrooms.”

After the gym, which was built in 1939, burned down, it was a struggle to get rebuilt. But a swell of support from the community convinced the Winston Dillard School Board to go ahead with the project. It was built entirely with the insurance money on an “as was” basis. If it was there before the fire, it would be replaced. The old building didn’t have air conditioning, so neither does the new one, but the electrical system that was long outdated, was modernized, and restrooms upgraded.

One teacher told about a student who went into the restroom to wash her hands and asked, “How does this thing work?” The teacher said “Just wave your hand in front of it,” and the student yelled, “It’s magic!”

Inkster said the builders all had a personal interest in the community including Todd Construction, which is based in Portland but was previously headquartered in Roseburg. The project superintendent, Joe Pynch, still lives in Roseburg.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” she said. “And every contractor that worked on this building gave us more than our money’s worth.”

Teachers were thrilled with the new building and all of the improvements that were made.

“It’s absolutely an upgrade, it’s nice because everything is updated and state of the art,” said second-grade teacher Kristal Plikat.

Emily Ledbetter, who has taught first-grade for 10 years at Lookingglass and also attended the school, said it was sad to see the old one go.

“It’s mixed feelings, I’m really excited about,” she said. “I love the feeling of community and feeling of love that’s in this gym because it was really a community effort from the smallest kindergartner to the biggest corporation. But that was the old gym, and I guess it’s because memories haven’t been made here yet.”

Tickets were sold for a chance to make the first basket on the new basketball court, and three fifth-graders won the chance.

It took a few shots, but Reese Willis finally made the first one and was rewarded by the roar of the crowd and a special basketball with the inscription saying that he made the first basket in the new gym.

“It was, like, really cool because I was the first one to do it, and there’s going to be other people, but I’m going to be famous,” a thrilled Willis said.

Librarian Cindy Medley was thrilled with the new library and was excited that the student and teachers could get back to a little more normalcy.

“It’s light, airy, it’s got color to it and the kids love coming down here,” Medley said. “It’s beautiful and it’s so fortunate for the kids to be able to have something to come to and enjoy for recesses and classroom time.

But now it’s time for the community to say good-bye to the old building and start making new memories.

“We bid farewell to the old historic building and we start anew,” Inkster said.

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com.

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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