Fire destroys text books, former school


East Union School near Farmersville is destroyed along with $1 million in Visalia Unified text books

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

FARMERSVILLE – A recent fire turned more than $1 million in history text books and a historic building to ash near Farmersville.

The fire was discovered in the main building of the former East Union School, on Mariposa Avenue (Road 156) south of Walnut Avenue (Avenue 288), by a Visalia Unified School District employee at about 6:45 a.m. on Nov. 26. Capt. Joanne Bear with the Tulare County Fire Department said four engines, two water tenders and a truck responded to the fire. At about 7:23 a.m., fire officials closed down the Road 156 between Avenue 288 and Avenue 280 (Caldwell Avenue) for most of the day as about 20 firefighters and two chiefs battled the blaze.

“Shortly after arrival, the fire was through the roof toward the center of the building,” Capt. Bear said. “We were on scene all day.”

Firefighters were able to contain the fire by about 10 a.m. but clean up continued for another 12 hours. The damage was estimated at $1.6 million for the textbooks and building. All employees of the District who work at the site were accounted for and safe. No cause for the fire has been determined.

“We are grateful to the Tulare County Fire Department for their rapid response and efforts in extinguishing the fire,” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Tamara Ravalín in a released statement.

Robert Groeber, VUSD Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, said East Union School was built in 1939 to serve the children of Linnel Camp, a farmworker housing community founded a year earlier just west of Farmersville. The camp, and the school, were built as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” with America. Roosevelt signed an executive order on May 1, 1935 setting up an independent Resettlement Administration (RA).

Under the RA, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) found suitable land about 5 miles southeast of Visalia on Edgar Linnell’s farm near the town of Farmersville. The government acquired 76 acres of Linnell’s property on which to locate 315 low-income farm labor families in 150 steel shelters, apartment buildings, and small single-family cottages with enough space for gardens. Families made an annual income of about $350 and were to pay 10 cents a day in rent. Permanent homes were built in 1939 and rented out for $8.20 per month, which includes water and electricity.

The school was absorbed by VUSD in 1965 – along with Ivanhoe, Goshen and Elbow Creek – and served as an elementary school until the early 1990s. Since that time, it has functioned as an occupied storage facility. The District estimates that over $1 million in textbooks, novels and workbooks were stored in the main building were destroyed.

“We had just received our new social science text books but our vendors have said they will be able to get them here by next fall,” Groeber said.

Groeber said VUSD will begin looking for rental space to house serve as the new storage facility for curriculum and furniture. The site also served as storage area for old furniture being replaced by new “flexible furniture” as part of the 21st Century Learning movement to allow students to switch between stools, chairs and bean bags depending on the learning activity.

The fire also displaced the Visalia Gleaners, who Groeber said used the kitchen of the school to store food collected for area shut-ins and seniors on fixed incomes who cannot afford their grocery bills. The volunteer group would organize and assemble food boxes there before delivering them to senior homes.

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