By Emilie Ng
ELLEN Saxby laid in bed when her “home away from home” on Brisbane’s bayside burnt to a crisp black shell in 2011.
Mrs Saxby had been on the steering committee to establish the Redland’s first co-educational Catholic secondary school and began working in the library in 1994.
She received the call about a fire inside the library at 10pm on Monday December 20.
“I just laid in bed,” Mrs Saxby said.
“(I) thought it must have been a small fire.”
But the next morning the long-time member of the Carmel College community saw the blaze had left a “heartbreaking” black mess of her proud “home”.
It had taken two thirds of the 820 students’ textbooks, all five computers and the entire school’s book collection, and gutted classrooms and counselling facilities.
Police suspected arsonists had lit the fire into a deliberate gasoline spillage inside a nearby locker.
“It was my home away from home,” Mrs Saxby said.
“I was absolutely devastated,” she said, forcing back tears.
“It was just all black.
“It was so heartbreaking because we had just put so much into building this library.”
The College’s full-time teacher librarian in charge of setting up the library was holidaying in Mackay when his daughter relayed footage posted on Facebook.
“It was the first week of Christmas holidays when I got a phone call from my daughter back here,” Tony Ogden said.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, it’s on Facebook, don’t believe it’.
“She got in the car and drove down, she phoned back and said, ‘There are fire engines everywhere and there’s a fire’.”
Returning to Brisbane a few days later, Mr Ogden went straight down to the library and saw “a mess”.
“Basically the front was burnt and the rest of it was black as soot from smoke damage everywhere,” he said.
“It was just totally unexpected.”
The school’s four librarians spent the remaining Christmas holidays replenishing priority items, and managed to replaced 90 per cent of the student’s textbooks for the following year.
The school also set up two demountable buildings to act as a temporary library while plans for a new one went forward.
They weren’t enough for student Jessica Adams, one of the library’s regulars and whose school locker was close to where the fire allegedly started.
“I spent all of grade 8 there,” Miss Adams, a Year 12 student, said.
“I made all my friends who I still talk to there, most of them older than me.
“We all had a little club in the library and when it was burnt down, we were scattered.
“It was kind of a safe haven and it was quite shocking and upsetting for everyone I think.
“We were a bit displaced.”
Miss Adams had also helped the library staff to laminate and catalogue the schools new textbooks for 2012.
“And of course every single one of them, destroyed,” she said.
After three patient years inside the cramped demountables, the school announced the new library officially opened on Wednesday August 26.
Brisbane auxiliary Bishop Brian V Finnigan joined the opening to blessed the $3.1 million facility.
Year 11 student Max Aumuller said it was the first time he had used a proper library in his schooling life.
“It’s so much better,” he said.
“We were in the demountables, which were old sweaty rooms.
“You couldn’t get to any books, unless you knew specific books.
“So here you can walk around, you can see all the resources that are available to use.
“It’s like a new environment.”
Mr Ogden said the College’s new principal, Brian Eastaughffe, was “instrumental” in establishing the new library.
“His first day on the job was basically welcomed by this burnt down shell of a library,” he said.
“It was the last thing he needed for the first day on the job as the new principal.
“But right from the start they could have just rebuilt the existing building but he wanted something more contemporary to fit in with the existing school.”
Before Miss Adams leaves the college in December, said she wanted to help the younger students connect and make new friends in the new library.
“We had this little group in the old library, so now I’ve tried to draw some younger kids from Year 7 and 8 in and make this their space,” she said.
“It makes it easy for the kids who are a bit more shy or want something different to connect and make friends, which wasn’t available for the other grades.”
No arrests were made following the incident.