By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
Gary Gatti can't stop smiling.
The principal of Gasquet's Mountain School is happy for several reasons, all of which relate to the community's new school.
Two years ago, the school was burned down by errant teenagers, leaving Gasquet's students, teachers and parents in a state of limbo while a new structure was built.
And although everyone attached to the old school was saddened and angry about the arson, no one can hide their giddiness about the new digs.
"Everything we have now is first class," Gatti said as he opened the door to the spacious new kindergarten classroom, decked out with new cabinets, desks, books, toys and a bathroom complete with kid-size kamode just right for five-year-olds.
Finished just four days before school started this week, the new Mountain School, which houses students in kindergarten through grade 8, is something the whole community is proud of.
"Oh, it's wonderful. Just look at the setting. It looks so nice and finally, the kids have the amenities that the other schools have," said long time Gasquet resident Candi Fox, whose son attended the old Mountain School from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Before the school burned, it was basically one small crowded building partitioned into three classrooms. A small converted janitor's closet served as the principal's office, teacher's lounge and everyman's bathroom.
There was no fence and no parking lot, just a curved, blacktop driveway and a little gravel.
"Before, it was kind of pathetic actually," said Gatti. "We had been using the same bathroom as the students for 10 years," he added as he proudly revealed the spacious new faculty restroom.
And when it rained nine months of the year students had to spend recess cowering under a roof overhang or sitting in their classroom.
"Now it's perfect," he said.
The new driveway arches up from the road and into a well marked parking lot laid in front of the school's entrance.
It is a comparatively large building housing three large classrooms, a lobby with office staff, a bonafide teachers lounge with table and chairs, a separate principal's office and the piece de resistance: a new gym.
Gasquet parents have been selling cakes, throwing Halloween carnivals and saving pennies for more than 10 years to get a gym for Mountain School students.
As of last year, there was about $23,000 in the gym account. Gatti and Fox projected it would have taken about 200 years to save up enough money.
But with the fire recovery came enough funds to add a gym to the new construction.
"The first day of school, everyone was walking around just smiling. And when you see the new gym, you'll see why," Gatti said.
It is a large air-conditioned facility with bleachers to seat at least 100 spectators and a remote-controlled, soundproof partition that can separate the huge gym into two smaller rooms. The gym also has an attached kitchen.
"We have our first ever home game next week," Gatti said beaming with pride.
The Mountain School Mountain Lion basketball and volleyball teams have long topped the charts of Del Norte sports competition, but never had an indoor gym to practice in or host games.
Now, Gatti and a group of parents are talking about setting up concessions in the gym kitchen and installing a sound system.
"I think it will bring more families in to live in Gasquet, because we have this now. Before, a lot of parents would drive their kids into town to Crescent Elk because it had more stuff, so maybe the kids will stay here now and we'll get the numbers," said Fox.
A dedication is scheduled later this month for the new Mountain School.
"I ordered the bronze plaque yesterday," Gatti said.