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Arson causes former Lebanon Catholic building to burn Sunday morning, city officials say

A fire that ripped through the former Lebanon Catholic building Sunday morning was the cause of suspected vandalism and arson, according to Lebanon city officials.

Matthew Toth, Lebanon Daily News

A fire that ripped through the former Lebanon Catholic building Sunday morning was the cause of suspected vandalism and arson, according to Lebanon city officials.

Lebanon fire crews were dispatched at 3:40 a.m. to the scene located at 1400 block of Chestnut Street. By the time fire crews arrived, at least four classrooms and the administration building were “fully blaze,” according to Lebanon City Fire Commissioner Duane Trautman.

“It’s arson, there’s no question about it,” he said.

No one was injured in the fire, and as of Sunday morning officials reported no suspects were taken into custody.

Trautman said the building has been horribly vandalized over the last few weeks, with evidence that other fires were attempted in the past.

“We were never called to any of those, but there are evidence of several other areas where fires were started,” he said. “They just didn’t take.”

In April, residents reported a vandalism spree at the building, with smashed glass windows and door panels, obscene and satanic messages on walls and floors, and sprayed contents of the fire extinguishers throughout the building.

The Diocese of Harrisburg closed the school in 2020, citing financial stress and decreasing enrollment for it’s decision. The property was purchased in June, with plans to build apartment buildings and townhouses.

Jonathan Rodriguez, a 2005 graduate of Lebanon Catholic, said hearing the news about Sunday’s arson “broke my heart.” Calling his time at the school a unique experience, Rodriguez had a science teacher who encouraged him to look into the field of meteorology.

“This school had a lot of potential,” he said. “It needed a little bit of renovation, but it had potential.”

Gail Vojtko was a teacher for 53 years at Lebanon Catholic before it closed in 2020, teaching German and Latin language courses. Calling the former school her home, she did not want to retire when the school closed and was already signed up to continue her classes for the following school year.

But seeing the school boarded up after Sunday morning’s fire, she said “It’s like I came out to watch my home be burned down.”

Despite theory’s made by local residents, officials insist that the fire was not caused by fireworks. On July 4, 2021, reckless use of illegal fireworks is what caused the three-alarm fire that destroyed a Consolidated Scrap Resources recycling facility.

“It’s just a shame to see the legacy of Lebanon Catholic be torn down like this,” Trautman said. “it’s just awful.”

Anyone with information regarding this fire is asked to call the Lebanon City Police Department at 717 274 2054.

Matthew Toth is a reporter for the Lebanon Daily News. Reach him at mtoth@ldnews.com or on Twitter at @DAMattToth. 

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