WEST SALEM TOWNSHIP, Pa. (WKBN) – The co-founder of an intervention facility in Mercer County and neighbors were looking over the charred remains of the Keystone Adolescent Center following a fire Thursday morning.
Co-founder Bob Gentile said it was hard looking at the burned-out building, remembering all that has happened there and the kids the facility has helped.
“This is our first building. To see it go up in flames was heartbreaking. The kids lost everything they had – their clothes, their toiletries, the games, footballs, basketballs, the things they had to play with every day,” Gentile said.
Just after midnight, a staff member at the Keystone Adolescent Center, 270 Sharon Rd., saw smoke and called 911.
Police officers arrived first and saw flames coming from the building. By the time firefighters arrived, the fire had consumed the facility.
Keystone Center fire
West Salem Assistant Fire Chief Bill Brown says the size of the fire and lack of water prompted him to call for help from 12 other departments.
“We much rather would have more water setting on the ground than not enough,” Brown said. “This time of night you have to wait for people to get to the station, get the trucks out and bring them here. Most of them travel quite a distance.”
All the children and staff were able to get out safely and were taken to a nearby facility.
Several people stopped by Thursday afternoon to take a look at the damage. The building was destroyed. Keystone High School senior Stariel Beler was devastated by the destruction.
“I was told about it this morning, but I didn’t know how bad it was. I have a feeling I’m going to cry when I get home,” Beler said.
Heather Hoffman was in tears when she heard the news about the fire.
Her son used to go to the school, and she wanted to do something to help. She brought the food and drinks for the fire crews as well as staff and students.
She said the school had made a big impact on her son.
“If it didn’t exist, my son would probably be in jail, but now he’s off to Pittsburgh Technical College in October. He will be graduating from Keystone High School June 2,” she said.
Deputy Fire Marshal Trooper Luke Nelson said because of the extent of the damage it will be hard to pinpoint an exact cause, but investigators think it started somewhere in the roof assembly. The twisted metal in the beams indicated prolonged heat exposure.
“We are going to come back bigger, better, stronger, and we are going to have a positive attitude,” Beler said. “We are going to have a positive attitude and we are going to help troubled kids do better in school and do better in life.”
No injuries were reported in the fire.
The Keystone Adolescent Center provides programming and behavior modification for at-risk students.