School on church's property catches fire

February 5, 2010 7:52:48 PM PST
Fire broke out at a school building on a church's property in southwest Houston Friday afternoon. One of the buildings at the Windsor Village United Methodist Church on Heatherbrook Drive near South Post Oak caught on fire. The church was not affected, but a school building, one of three buildings on the church's property, was burned. HISD leases the property to house a charter school called the High School for Business & Economic Success.

The blaze broke out just before 4pm Friday in an area of the school known as Moon Hall that essentially serves as the cafeteria. Students had already left school for the day when someone from the janitorial staff noticed smoke and flames coming from the building, then notified a compliance officer on campus, who in turn told the principal who called 911.

Emergency crews responded and put out the blaze an hour or so after it started. There were no apparent injuries.

HFD Arson Investigators are arrived to recreate the scene. The fire chief stopped short of calling it suspicious, but he says with the recent rash of church fires in east Texas they don't want to rule anything out.

The fire appears to have started underneath a heating and ventilation system outside the building that houses the cafeteria and some classrooms. Fans blew the flames and smoke inside.

"My heart is for these kids. We have a dropout recovery program. This school is everything to them. This is like a second home for them," said school principal Karen Stewart. "When I was standing at the front of the church, some of them came over and they were in tears."

Classes will resume as scheduled on Monday. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

According to HISD, the school was taken over by the church in April 2009 and was recognized as an HISD charter school in August for the start of the 2009-2010 school year.

A statement on HISD's website says the school serves "up to 250 at-risk students in grades 7-12 who are generally overage for their grade level, have fallen behind in acquiring credits for graduation, or are dropouts seeking a nontraditional program that will help them earn a high-school diploma."

Windsor Village United Methodist Church pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell has been an influential member of the Houston community for years. Besides being the pastor of one of the biggest churches in Houston, he is also close friends with both President Bushes and President Obama. Rev. Caldwell performed the wedding for Jenna Bush.

Rev. Caldwell has also been instrumental in offering free health care to people in the community. Last year, he joined forces with Texas Children's Hospital to open a clinic in southwest Houston.