NEWARK – As soon as the Worcester County Developmental Center (WCDC) building was lost to a devastating fire on Tuesday, WCDC staff began working on alternative facilities to serve 92 developmentally disabled clients Wednesday.
“The business community has been wonderful. We’ve been offered some space and we’re working on that now in Snow Hill which is the best possible location,” said County Commissioner Judy Boggs, who serves on the WCDC Board. “Our first priority is providing the services they have to receive on a daily basis. They look forward to it and they need it.”
Clients, all over 21, learn work and life skills at the non-profit center, which serves the lower Eastern Shore.
“We have training programs at Most Blessed Sacrament School in food service. We have a greenhouse where people learn to raise plants. That was saved, by the way. We still have our poinsettias in the greenhouse out back,” Boggs said. “It gives them something to do, something to learn, a feeling of worth.”
One client who participates in the green house program has been by since the fire to water those plants.
Some other things were saved from the flames, including the center’s buses and vans.
“We were able to save the files and records. They saved the most significant computers, records and files,” said Boggs.
Other items are seriously lacking.
“You start with supplies, equipment, crafts, tables, chairs. Essentially everything,” said Boggs. “You can’t bring people into an open space.”
Although planning for a new building for WCDC is already underway, that work is still in the early stages, and the building will not be complete for a few years. Formal plans have not even been drawn up, just an architectural rendering.
Attention will now be turned to the interim and the center’s immediate needs, said Boggs, although no decisions have been made. The WCDC board will meet next week and discuss alternatives.
“We don’t want there to be a large gap where they receive no services. We just want to get them back to normal as soon as possible,” Boggs said. “They do really well with structure.”
The mystery of just what started the devastating fire Tuesday at the center in Newark has not yet been resolved.
“It’s still undetermined at this time and it’s still under investigation. We have a couple more interviews to do,” said Brian Winter, deputy fire marshal for Worcester County. “I don’t think it’s criminal or anything like that.”
The fire began in a storage closet in a classroom. No one was hurt in the fire, which was discovered Tuesday afternoon at 3:14 p.m. About a dozen staff members attending an in-service training day were the only occupants.
Six fire companies responded, but even with all the manpower and equipment it took four hours to put out the fire. The effort was complicated by the lack of water in Newark, reportedly forcing firefighters to draw water from an effluent lagoon at the Newark wastewater treatment plant.
While firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading, the building was a complete loss.
“The roof had suffered a collapse and it was unstable,” said Winter, who confirmed the remains of the building were razed. “They had storage up there. That fuel added to the fire and the balloon construction of the building, and the attic being wide open contributed to the amount of damage and the spread of the fire.”