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The former Lebanon Catholic building at 1400 Chestnut St., Lebanon, caught fire in an overnight blaze that occurred in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, July 3.
County dispatch records indicate initial calls for the blaze were made around 3:40 a.m.
City of Lebanon Fire Commissioner Duane Trautman said that crews were still on-site as of 8:45 a.m. Sunday addressing remaining hotspots.
Trautman said that the immediate cause of the fire was vandalism.
“There’s been numerous fires here and this is the one that took hold,” said Trautman.
Many had speculated that given the holiday timing, this may have been another case of fireworks-caused conflagration. Over the Fourth of July weekend in 2021, fireworks caused a massive fire at Consolidated Scrap Resources in Lebanon.
However, Trautman said that he doesn’t believe fireworks were involved, and that vandalism was the culprit.
Read More: Police blame ‘reckless use’ of fireworks for massive July 4 scrapyard fire
“It’s a crying shame to see what people have done to this building,” said Trautman.
“Absolute complete abject vandalism from front-to-back, stem-to-stern.”
Trautman said that the former Lebanon Catholic administration building is wrecked, while the gymnasium appeared to escape fire damage, as did the historic Donaghmore Mansion. Trautman said that about four classrooms behind the administration area were also destroyed in the blaze.
“Anyone who would have taught here, gone here, you’d probably be in tears if you saw it.”
Trautman said that no firefighters were injured while responding to the fire. “We fought it from the outside,” said Trautman. “We surrounded and drowned, and that’s about all really.”
Trautman said there was lots of fire when crews arrived Sunday morning.
Responding fire companies included Neversink Fire Company, Glenn Lebanon Fire Company, Cleona Fire Company, and Union Hose Company of Annville (the last two of which officially merged administration in March). First Aid & Safety Patrol was on-site as EMS, and the Lebanon Salvation Army canteen truck responded as well.
Trautman said that crews walked through the building after containing the fire to check for possible victims and saw lots of items that would have been salvageable if not for the blaze, including school uniforms, equipment and furniture, and school banners.
Trautman said that the Diocese of Harrisburg should be ashamed of allowing the building to appear as it does before they sold it.
“It’s just a shame, a crying shame,” said Trautman. “And then to see it burn like this and the other destruction, it’s a crying shame.”
Facebook video by Justin Snyder.
Put up for sale at $2.45 million in 2020 following an unexpected closure decision by the Diocese of Harrisburg, the property was purchased in June by a developer who plans to build townhouses and apartment buildings on the site.
Read More: Lebanon Catholic alumni reminisce following school closure: ‘It was a family’
Read More: Purchase of Lebanon Catholic site final; developer eyes new plans for historic mansion & awaits resolution on zoning
Preliminary development plans for the complex incorporated the Lebanon Catholic gymnasium and administration building.
“We feel the admin (entrance) and gym have a mid-century modern/brutalist appeal to their architecture and have been a long part of the community, so we wanted to pay tribute to the site’s past use,” said developer Shakher Patel in an interview with LebTown earlier this year. “The space is also well maintained and doesn’t need heavy structural upgrades.”
It is not yet clear to what extent fire damage of the structures will affect or complicate those plans. However, plans for the complex were not yet finalized even prior to the fire – according to a more recent interview with LebTown, Patel had said that he was looking into ways to incorporate the historic Donaghmore Mansion into the site plan, something that was not in the original preliminary development plan.
It remains to be seen what portions of the Lebanon Catholic campus will be incorporated into the complex, especially after fire damage is taken into account.
Reached by LebTown Sunday morning, Patel said there wasn’t much he could add right now. “We’ve been formulating plans to secure the site but very unfortunate.”
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