EDISON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Approximately 500 students in Edison, New Jersey returned to class Wednesday for the first time since a fire destroyed their school building over the weekend.

Nearby Middlesex County College offered classrooms to teachers and students of James Monroe Elementary School following the devastating fire.

As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported, the 50-year-old elementary school was gutted, but a sign was salvaged and placed outside a building at the college campus.

In the days since the blaze, school officials worked to transform two campus buildings donated by the college.

Supplies for the students were donated. Children from other schools in the district made encouraging signs that now hang on the walls of the temporary school.

“We are going to survive and we’re going to be better for this whole experience,” principal Lynda Zapoticzny told Champion. “Watching our children get off the buses and seeing their excitement made me realize that it really doesn’t matter where we are.”

For fifth grader Marisa Tufaro, walking into her new temporary school was like fast-forwarding to college.

“And I’m like ‘holy cow, we could have a party in here!'” Tufaro said. “I started to talk to my friends about what’s the classroom like, what’s it gonna be like, are we really going to be treated like college students?”

For the time being students will be bused to the campus for class, Champion reported.

“Ups and downs, highs, lows, and just really counting on each other and leaning on each. Trying to make the best of a horrible situation,” said fifth grade teacher Lisa Romeo.

Police say head custodian Jerome Higgins tossed an unfinished cigarette into a trash can in the janitor’s office Saturday evening, sparking the blaze.

“I think it was a very careless mistake by someone I trusted,” O’Malley said earlier this week.

The school had smoke and fire alarms, but no sprinklers. It is against state law to smoke inside a school building.

“I’m sure it was a horrible accident but you have to think of things,” Edison resident Millie Mark said. “Of all people, he knows the rules.”

Higgins was issued a summons accusing him of smoking in a public building, which is a disorderly persons offense. He’s been placed on administrative leave.

The district is already working on plans to rebuild but the superintendent warns it could take two years.

For more information from the school, click here.

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