Just over a year ago, Fort Hunt High School was smoldering from a fire which destroyed much of the building and left the future of the school in doubt.
Last Sunday, the anger which many people felt when the school was burned was put aside while the renovated school was rededicated.
During the ceremony, the gymnasium thundered with applause, foot stomping and whistling when the Fort Hunt symphonic band ended the Overture of 1812 with a mighty clash of cymbals and a deafening bass drum.
The audience was made up of ebullient students, parents and friends of the school, rededicating the building which was damaged by arsonists in December 1978.
"Listening to the music, I feel like we were going through last year all over again," said the emotional principal, James Manning. "I'm so proud to be principal of such a fine school."
After the fire, Fort Hunt's 1,500 students were crowded into Groveton and Mount Vernon High schools where they were assigned to split-day schedules and had to give up many of their extra-curricular activities.
Three Fort Hunt students, who were not mentioned at the rededication, were convicted of setting the fire. All three -- Timothy M. Greer, Robert Smithwick and Matthew Musolino -- were tried as adults in the case and each served about four months in jail. In addition, they were each ordered to pay the county $10,000 and engage in 3,000 hours of volunteer service.
A spokesperson for the county parole office, who would identify herself only as Mrs. Raymond, last week refused to confirm whether the three students have engaged in any volunteer service to date.
During the dedication, student body president Paige Jones came the closest to talking about the fire.
"The total experience was unfortunate but it taught us a lot about responsibility," Jones said.
In spite of massive fire damage and only partially completed repairs, Fort Hunt opened on schedule last September with administrators working out of trailers in the parking lot and students bringing their lunch because the cafeteria was not complete.
According to Alton Hlavin, director of design and construction for the county schools, Fort Hunt is finally finished and better than ever. Repairing the school cost $3.5 million.
"We incorporated some of the renewal work, which was needed before the fire, to be done with the repair work," said Hlavin. He added that the rebuilding was paid for by money set aside exclusively for that purpose.
"Renewal costs are included in that $3.5 million figure," Hlavin said.
The ceremony was akin to a dignified pep rally and members of the cheering crowd read like a "who's who" of Fairfax County politics and education.
Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity attended as did Associate Superintendent William J. Burkholder and school board member Anthony Lane. Supervisor Sandra L. Duckworth (D-Mount Vernon) and her predecessor Warren I. Cikins also were in the audience.
On the podium with principal Manning was Superintendent L. Linton Deck, Area Superintendent Herman Howard and school board member Ruth Dell. They were joined by state Superintendent of Schools S. John Davis, who left Fairfax County for state office last May.Davis was at the helm of the Fairfax system when the fire occurred.
Davis noted that shortly after the fire occurred, it was suggested that Fort Hunt be closed because of declining enrollment and badly needed renovations.
"Without this school, you would have isolated groups of subdivisions," he said.
"My very best wishes for continued success," Davis said in closing. "Yes, indeed, a great dedication to education has been found. I know education is in good hands in this high school and in this community."
In an instant, the crowd was on its feet.