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Arson suspected in overnight fire that destroyed Gainesville High modular unit
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Officials inspect damage to a modular building Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, at the Gainesville High School's Ninth Grade Center. - photo by Scott Rogers

Video surveillance has led school officials to believe arson is to blame for a fire that gutted a modular unit behind the Ninth Grade Center on the campus of Gainesville High early Thursday, Feb. 21.

The investigation is ongoing, according to Gainesville fire officials, and an exact cause has not formally been determined. There were no injuries caused by the blaze.

“What we’re most proud of is the response time from fire and police,” Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams said.

Williams added that he is not concerned about any impact to student safety going forward.

Williams said he got a call at approximately 2:30 a.m. about a report of smoke emanating from the modular unit, which had most recently been used by Lanier Technical College as a GED study and testing center, as well as for continuing education programs.

“The programs that were here had been moved out,” Williams said.

Tim McDonald, vice president of economic development at Lanier Tech, said the college had moved all its essential items, including computers and other equipment, from the unit to its new campus off Ga. 365.

But some furniture that was to be transferred into a state surplus coffer remained inside the modular unit.  

Williams said the long-term plan was to demolish the modular unit to better centralize campus activities. The Ninth Grade Center is located on a hill behind the high school’s main campus and accessed from a different road during school hours.

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A modular building located behind the Gainesville High School Ninth Grade Center caught fire early Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, and received heavy damage. - photo by Scott Rogers

Scrapping the unit was likely a few years away, however, and the unit might have been used for some Gainesville High activities in the interim.

Now, however, plans to demolish the unit have been expedited.

“We’re probably going to be speeding up that process,” Williams said.

Adrian Niles, chief operations officer for Gainesville City Schools, said “an assessment of how soon we can do the demolition” is the next step.

“It’s come to the top of our list,” he added.

Initially, officials had thought that lightning might be the culprit after heavy thunderstorms passed through Hall County Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

Hall County Fire Services, for example, responded to five lightning strikes overnight.

“However, none had any evidence of fire,” spokesman Zachary Brackett said in an email.

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