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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

It’s been a tumultuous seven months for Hidden Valley Elementary School third-grader Luca Beach.

The bright-eyed, redheaded 8-year-old was among 132 students who lost homes in the October fires. The school’s satellite campus on Parker Hill Road was destroyed in the blaze, displacing 82 of his peers. His school was closed for almost three weeks. Six teachers and staff members lost homes.

But, Beach loves reading books — especially funny ones, like his favorite graphic novel series “Dog Man” by Dav Pilkey.

Thursday, Beach joined a small crowd of students gathered at the east Santa Rosa campus to celebrate a newly installed “Little Free Library.” The structure, near the corner of Chanate Road and Fitzpatrick Court, is modeled after a national trend, where passersby are encouraged to take a book and then leave a book.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Beach, who is living with his family in Windsor after their rented Aaron Drive home burned. “Maybe after school, I’ll come grab a book. … It’s really fun to read.”

The library, sponsored by Redwood Credit Union and created in the likeness of its redwood tree logo by Montgomery High School students, was installed Monday, Redwood Credit spokeswoman Tracy Weitzenberg said.

It’s one of nine free lending libraries that will be integrated into the community this year through a partnership with United Way Women United and the Career Technical Education (CTE) Foundation Sonoma County, with help from sponsors.

In a brief address to students, Redwood Credit Union Chief Operations Officer Cynthia Negri praised their tenacity.

“We know that a lot of you and the school was impacted by the fires,” she said before the library was unveiled from beneath a green sheet to a chorus of squeals and cheers. “We’re very proud of you and we think you are very resilient and strong.”

Mitchell Carter, the school’s acting vice principal, said it is a welcome portal to reading, especially as the campus’ main library is closed in the summer.

“It’s cool to have another access point to reading and to books,” he said.

Furthering literacy is a focal point for the United Way Women United, said Rusty Smith, United Way of the Wine Country’s vice president of resource development and marketing. Last year, the organization worked with the CTE Foundation and local high schools to place five libraries around the Wright Elementary School District, he said.

This year, about 25 students from five high schools built 10 libraries, said Amber Figueroa, director of programs for the CTE Foundation. One modeled after the Fountaingrove Round Barn was raffled off at an April fundraiser, and the others will be placed in locations to be determined by sponsors, she said.

The project gave students, including Montgomery High School sophomore Jared McGee, real-world experience working with clients.

“It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. … All the kids affected (by the fires) and the people affected can give back to the community and give books to the library and take books out if they need it. It was a really good feeling to give something to a community that was hurt,” said the 15-year-old, who aspires to be an architect.

The future is unclear for Hidden Valley’s satellite campus, located on the property of Keysight Technologies, said Anna Guzman, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Santa Rosa City Schools.

“We are in conversations with Keysight,” she said in a statement. “We don’t have any concrete information at this point regarding the next steps.”

For now, displaced students from kindergarten to second grade are attending classes in multi-use spaces, district spokeswoman Beth Berk said. About 540 students were enrolled at the main campus before the fires; today, it houses around 600 students, she said.

On Wednesday, the Santa Rosa City Schools board approved a $515,000 project to install three modular classrooms at the campus for first- and second-graders, according to Berk and information submitted to the school board. The project is funded with insurance monies.

The modular classrooms are expected to be installed this summer, Carter said.

You can reach Staff Writer Hannah Beausang at 707-521-5214 or hannah.beausang@pressdemocrat.com.

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