Allegan County News & Union Enterprise

Fire at Gilkey Elementary appears to be intentionally set

By Jason Wesseldyk
Sports Editor

A fire at Gilkey Elementary School in Plainwell appears to be a case of arson, according to officials from the Plainwell Department of Public Safety.
Firefighters were dispatched to the school at approximately 7:58 p.m. on Tuesday, July 19, and found a fire in the outdoor men’s restroom near the district’s baseball field. The fire was quickly extinguished, with fire and smoke damage confided to one small area of the school, officials said.
“A preliminary investigation appears to show that the fire was intentionally set and officers will continue to follow up leads on the investigation,” Plainwell Public Safety director Kevin Callahan said in a release.
According to Plainwell Community Schools superintendent Matthew Montange, initial estimates range from $15,000 to $45,000 in terms of damages.
“Once we have cleaned everything we then need to determine if ceiling tiles and other items need to be replaced,” Montange said. “The more that needs replacing, the higher the potential cost.”
The damage is not expected to impact the use of the school once classes resumes. The first day of the 2022-23 school years for PCS is Monday, Aug. 29.
“We will be ready for staff and students to return as normal, but we do not have a final timeline (for repairs) as of yet because we have not made a final determination on the scope of work required,” Montange said.
Montange was alerted to the fire by a pair of sources, the first being Gilkey principal Rebecca Bilodeau and the second being his wife.
“I was contacted by the building principal who was on site conducting interviews,” Montange said. “My son was also attending the middle school football camp that was on site, so my wife contacted me as well.
“We were initially just relieved that no one was hurt and that the damage was relatively minor compared to what could have happened. At the same time, we were all obviously upset that such an event occurred as this was a senseless act of destruction directed at one of our schools and directly impacts our staff and kids.”
Montange praised the work done by Plainwell Public Safety.
“Plainwell Public Safety did a great job getting to the scene and getting the fire out quickly,” he said. “I would like to thank them for their quick response and for their diligence in working to track down the perpetrator of this act. 
“I also want to thank all of our parents and staff who were on site and stepped up to help in any way they could.”
Anyone with information regarding the fire is asked to contact Plainwell Department of Public Safety at 269-685-9858 or provide information anonymously through Allegan County Silent Observer at 1-855-SILENT-0 or through the Allegan County Silent Observer webpage. 
A reward is being offered for information in this case. 
Gun Plain Township Fire Department and Plainwell EMS assisted at the scene.

Leave a Reply