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Heritage Christian students return to school after a year away

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: Aug 28 2013 07:13:23 PM MDT
Updated On: Aug 28 2013 08:43:11 PM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

After an arsonist burned part of Heritage Christian a little more than a year ago, the school moved into a building one-third the size of its normal facility for the entire school year. Now students, faculty and staff tell NBC Montana they're excited to be back in their old building with a couple of new improvements.

Students file into administrator and teacher Gerry Goede's classroom. He's put blue tape on the floor to signify the size of his classroom last year at Montana Bible College.

"It was a lot smaller last year with the classrooms but I think it really knitted us together," says 10th grader Gabe Jackson.

"...And this year it was like walking through a big open space," explains classmate Jordan Nuss.

Down the hallway, we stopped into a 7th grade classroom, where students like Rachel Simpson were practicing their new lock combinations.

When she walked through the doors this morning, Simpson said she felt, "A mixture of being a little bit nervous but excited because I didn't know what it would be like. It's like a new experience for me."

Part of that new experience is the school's recently-completed gym. Goede showed us its improvements and what it took to get there.

Classrooms behind the gym were downsized to make room for increased seating -- from 300 to 700 -- and an extra court. Goede explains the stage is also larger and while students used to eat there, in their classrooms and in a section of the gym, there's now an extra 2,000 square feet they'll use as a lunchroom.

Goede says it was challenging. "Because the gymnasium was a separate building and the other classrooms were built around it, we had to basically deconstruct the gymnasium and pull it all out with cranes and then rebuild the inside of the building."

But with those challenges came strength.

"There were a lot of tears and emotions last year as people saw the flames coming out at night and then when we walked through and saw the sky coming through the ceiling because it had burned through the ceiling in places and, yet, the people had a peace that God was in control of it. He knew that he could use this for something good," says Goede.

While parents say it was hard to be away, they say they're excited for what feels like a fresh start.

"It's like coming back home, it really is," says parent Annique Fenalson.

Goede tells us the reconstruction process took about six months and around $3 million to complete. Insurance covered most of the costs but they held fundraisers last year to cover extra expenses for code upgrades, like a new sprinkler system.