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SCHOOLS

Blaze destroys brand-new school buses

Portable classroom also damaged at Lynbrook/Malverne school

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The cause of the fire that destroyed Malverne school district’s three new school buses was arson, Nassau County Fire Marshals determined on Tuesday.

“This was very much directed at those buses,” said Mike Mennella, the marshal supervising the case. “I don’t think it was an act of mischief by children. This was a very directed thing.”

The Nov. 7 blaze, which broke out around 4:15 a.m. in the parking lot of the Davison Avenue Intermediary School in Lynbrook, damaged the three buses and nearby portable classrooms, rendering them unusable. By the following morning, the Malverne school district had secured transportation from an independent bus company for district students who attend parochial high schools in the area.

While bus service was uninterrupted, and staff and students who use the portable classrooms were quickly relocated inside the school building, members of the school community were furious.

“I’m pissed off, angry and otherwise not happy,” said Board of Education President Dr. Patrick Coonan at the board’s Nov. 9 meeting. “But we shall persevere, move on.”

Coonan went on to say that the district will recover the buses’ full value — about $309,000 — from insurance coverage. Once the insurance pays out, the school will purchase three new buses, he added. In the meantime, the drivers who had operated the district’s buses are riding the routes alongside the temporary company’s drivers to ensure efficiency.

“If someone wants us to stop running buses, we won’t,” Coonan said.

Mennella said the marshals have “an idea for motive,” but would not elaborate as the investigation is still ongoing. “We have some possible motives so we’re just following where they lead and we’ll see,” he added. “Nothing we’re willing to release at this point.”

The marshal did, however, say that investigators are making headway. “[We’re] knocking on doors and out in the street, looking,” Mennella said. “We have a couple leads.”

According to school officials, there is video surveillance of the incident, captured by a camera that sits atop the back of the Davison Avenue school building. Coonan said the video was handed over to investigators.

“Arsons are notoriously difficult to begin with,” Mennella said. “Happens at four o’clock in the morning, dead of night, and there’s no witnesses. … It’s all circumstantial.”

If caught, the perpetrator would be charged with three counts of third-degree arson, a felony that carries a sentence of three to seven years per count, according to Mennella. He said no explosives or accelerants were used to start the blaze.

Schools Superintendent Dr. James Hunderfund said that district officials deemed the Davison Avenue parking lot, which is enclosed by a chain link fence and locked gates, suitable for storing the buses overnight.

“That was the spot we felt was the best … [it] was in an open area that was visible and that was also secure,” Hunderfund said. “I don’t know where we’ll go in the future. We’ll just have to evaluate that.”

At the board meeting, Coonan said the district will most likely look for another location in which to house the new buses.

Continue checking LIHerald.com for updates.