Stephani Clements walked out of her Montgomery home in the dead of night, horrified to find flames lapping at the small barn-shaped structure in front of her.
“The library was fully engulfed. The fire was running up the tree outside of my house,” said Clements, a Calgary teacher.
Painted in red and white, the Little Free Library was a place for readers in the northwest Calgary neighbourhood to exchange books.
It was built by Clements’ former students at Jack James High School in the Paced Learning Program, designed for students with mild cognitive disabilities.
Then on Sunday, around 12:30 a.m., Clements found herself standing on the street in her mismatched sleepwear, watching in devastation as someone kicked the burning mass of wood and books into the sidewalk to stop the fire from spreading.
The library was installed at the beginning of the summer, and Clements said it was being used quite often.
She had purchased the materials with her own money, and her students had spent the better part of a year building it in their spare time at the school’s wood shop.
“They worked really hard on it, and it was gorgeous and we were super proud of it,” said Clements.
“It’s just devastating to see all the hard work that the kids did, literally up in smoke.”
Clements spoke with an attending firefighter who told her that an accelerant was likely used, she said.
“It’s just heartbreaking to see that someone would do that, whether it be intentional or just a stupid prank walking by,” she said.
Clements said friends and teachers have offered to rebuild and restock the community resource, and she’s considering building another one with the students at her new school this coming school year.
“I think maybe having a metal one might be a better idea.”