Damage from computer fire closes Kelly Middle School

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Sun., Mar. 10, 2013
This computer bank was the source of an early-morning fire that caused extensive water damage at Kelly Middle School. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
This computer bank was the source of an early-morning fire that caused extensive water damage at Kelly Middle School. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

An early-morning March 4 fire in an upstairs science classroom led to extensive flooding, water damage and cancellation of classes at Kelly Middle School. Norwich Deputy Fire Marshal Lauren Casady said that one computer in a bank of four caught fire just before 3 a.m. Monday, setting off two overhead sprinklers. “When the fire department showed up, the fire was out. The sprinklers did their job,” he said.

But in saving the structure from flames, the sprinklers created a deluge that seeped downstairs onto the first floor. “It’s not a good way to start the week,” said Kelly Principal Bill Peckrul. Classrooms on both floors, in two of the school’s six team areas, were flooded, damaging school supplies and leaving an inch or two of standing water.

Casady said that due to the level of damage, initial investigation couldn’t determine whether it was the computer itself or the monitor above it that initially erupted in flames, or what caused it to do so. “It would be impossible, from my perspective, to find that out,” he said. “We do not believe [the fire] was criminal in nature; it was accidental,” he said. Most of the damage was from the water, not the fire, he said.

An upstairs science room held the blackened remains of the computer that started the fire. Despite that computer being burned, the sprinkler system contained the blaze so well that an assortment of students’ papier-mâché model volcanoes, on a counter just 10 feet away, were untouched. The floor, however, was covered with puddles remaining after initial clean-up efforts. Water marks close to 2 inches high were visible on the bottoms of desks and chairs.

Elsewhere on that floor, maintenance crews maneuvered a small army of “chariots,” mobile ride-on vacuum devices. Network technician Brandon Gale said that the devices could sweep up 20 gallons of water at a time. Other workers mopped the floor by hand after the chariots’ initial pass, and fans were strategically stationed around the hallways to aid drying.

Norwich Superintendent Abby Dolliver was walking the school’s hallways Monday morning in slacks that were damp to the shins from the flooding. She said that she headed to school after receiving the alarm at 4 a.m. About 20 offices and classrooms were affected by water damage, she said. “It will be a bit before we can use those wings.” In the meantime, class locations would be shifted so students could return to school - “the sooner the better,” she said.

Peckrul said that among the losses were test booklets for the seventh and eighth grade Connecticut Mastery Tests, scheduled to be administered starting Tuesday. Now that plan has to be put on hold, he said. “We’re waiting to hear back from the state. We’ll probably need new booklets. These aren’t going to go through the computer scoring,” he said. In addition, “we’re going to have to figure out where we’re going to put [students] for testing. It’s going to be a juggling act.”

School officials held a news conference Monday afternoon to anounce that classes would be shifted to new locations in the building so that school could open on Tuesday. The CMT for eighth graders was delayed until new booklets could be obtained, said Peckrul, but testing would proceed as usual for other students. He said that insurance adjusters have yet to put an estimate on the cost of damages.

Dolliver said that clean-up and replacement of some furniture deemed to be damaged beyond use would continue for some time, but declined to say when the affected wing would be able to reopen. .

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