MILWAUKEE -- Damage is estimated at $1 million after a fire Saturday night, April 8th at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Peck School of the Arts, which is believed accidental in nature. Classes were canceled Monday, April 10th and will be again on Tuesday, April 11th at the three impacted buildings, as students said they're wondering whether their projects can be saved.
UWM Police Chief Joseph LeMire said Sunday afternoon the Milwaukee Fire Department and Milwaukee police responded to the building around 10:00 p.m. after reports of fire coming from the building. No one was inside the building at the time. Chief LeMire said this fire is believed to be accidental, and there's nothing to suggest it's suspicious or there's foul play involved.
UWM officials provided this update on Monday evening:
"University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students will receive information Tuesday on the relocation of classes held in its art, music and theater buildings following a fire at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts on Saturday night.
The fire reported about 10 p.m. Saturday appears to have started in the set/scenery shop in the school’s theater building. That building suffered fire damage, and it and the adjacent music and art buildings have smoke and water damage.
Classes will be moved to other campus buildings, including the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts, Kenilworth building and Mitchell Hall. Students will receive emails from their departments advising them on where their classes will meet. The Peck School serves 1,700 students majoring in the arts and other 500 who take arts classes.
Faculty members and staff will be allowed into the music building on Tuesday to collect personal belongings. The music building suffered the least damage, and workers are striving to clean and reopen it by next Monday.
The art building is expected to be cleaned and reopen by April 21. The theater building will likely remain closed until the fall semester.
Friday and Saturday performances by guitarists Adam Holzman and Alex de Grassi have been moved to UWM’s Greene Hall, and a few recitals scheduled for this week will be moved as well. Events scheduled for the Zelazo Center and Kenilworth building will take place as planned.
Additional information about the recovery effort and schedule changes will be shared with news media as it becomes available."
The fire happened at a terrible time -- with just weeks left in the semester.
"Another project that we were about to start this week, and I actually need this class to graduate," Alec McWhirter said.
It is believed the fire started on the west side entrance to the theater building, a backstage area where items are built for theater productions. Chief LeMire said there was a group working in the building Saturday night, and they left around 8:00 or 8:30 p.m.
"It's a work area behind the theater. That's the spot they'd build items for theater productions -- wood, metal and other items like that and we believe that through that production is where that accidental fire occurred," Chief LeMire said.
The Peck School of the Arts serves about 1,700 UWM students through its art, music and theater buildings, Emmons said. Classes will have to be relocated for a week, maybe two weeks, Emmons said, and theater activities may have to be relocated until fall.
"The most affected classes are the theater classes, of course. We've had quite a lot of smoke damage to the art building, the music building and the theater building, water damage in each of those buildings as well," Emmons said.
The water was most concerning for McWhirter -- with a sculpture stored below the area where the fire started.
"I mean, I hope I can still graduate," McWhirter said.
Whether his work could be salvaged was unknown Monday.
Emmons said this fire "couldn't have happened at a worse time," because students were in "final production mode" on their theater production "Arcadia." Emmons said the set was built, and students were taking part in final rehearsals, with the show about two weeks away.
Emmons said the community has already responded and offered to help.
"The UWM community, the student union will help with relocation of classes. Churches, different theater companies said they would help so we can have our final productions of the academic year," Emmons said.
"Arcadia" will go on, Emmons said, just not at the Peck School of the Arts. The exact location for that production hasn't yet been determined.
"(Tuesday), we'll have nearly 60 to 70 people in the building cleaning up," Emmons said.
Emmons said once the air quality improves, some rooms will reopen, but the most severely damaged areas, like the scene shop, may be closed until fall.
UW-Milwaukee's Chancellor, Mark Mone, issued the below message after this fire:
"Dear Faculty, Staff and Students,
Many Peck School of the Arts classes will be cancelled Monday and Tuesday after a fire in the school’s Theater building on Saturday night. No one was in the building at the time, and we are very thankful that there were no injuries.
You may already have read news reports about the fire, which was discovered about 10 p.m. We believe that it started in the set/scenery shop, and although the cause is still under investigation, we believe the fire was accidental and not suspicious. I am extremely grateful to the Milwaukee Fire Department and the UWM and Milwaukee police departments for their swift response and outstanding service. I also want to thank Peck School of the Arts Dean Scott Emmons for his tireless leadership during and after the fire. Randy Trumbull-Holper, PSOA Director of Facilities, and Geoff Hurtado, Associate Vice Chancellor, Facilities Planning and Management, are also to be commended.
The set/scenery shop was destroyed by the fire, and the Theater and adjacent Arts and Music buildings all suffered smoke and water damage. Classes in all three buildings will be cancelled Monday and Tuesday, and ensemble rehearsals on Monday are cancelled. Dean Emmons and his staff are working to find alternate meeting places for classes and rehearsals and will share information with affected faculty members, students and staff as it is available.
The Theater, Art and Music buildings also will be closed to faculty members and staff on Monday and Tuesday. We encourage them to work from home.
Classes and rehearsals in the Zelazo Center, Kenilworth building and Mitchell Hall will be held as scheduled on Monday and Tuesday.
As you know, this is a very busy time of the school year for Peck School students, faculty members and staff. We are very grateful to the community arts groups that have already reached out to the Peck School to offer space for performances scheduled through the end of the school year. We’re also grateful to the alumni, community members and others who have offered to help with cleanup. Those wishing to help or offer aid can contact Peck School of the Arts Marketing Director Rebecca Ottman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While the fire is an unfortunate event, I cannot stress enough how grateful I am that no one was injured and how proud I am of the fast and professional response by our faculty members and staff."