By Terry Rogers
On Thursday morning, January 9, at around 9:30 am, Jodi Messick, who teaches Kindergarten at Evelyn I. Morris Early Childhood Center heard what she described as a “thump” in the ceiling above her classroom. She called the custodial staff who opened the ceiling, but didn’t notice anything unusual.
“In normal circumstances, they would have heard a hissing sound, but because the pipes were frozen, no water was escaping,” said Glen Stevenson, Director of Operations for Milford School District. “Plus, the insulation installed between the drop ceiling and the pipes blocked any visual inspection, so they didn’t notice a problem. What they didn’t realize was that condensation from the sprinkler system had built up in one of the low points of the system and frozen due to the extremely cold weather.” Dr. Stevenson explained that, approximately one-half hour after Ms. Messick heard the thump, the pipe thawed and water poured out of the sprinkler system into the classrooms underneath it.
“The water was shooting out of the wall above Ms. Messick’s classroom and into the classroom next door,” Dr. Stevenson said. “By the time we were able to contain the water, both classrooms had been significantly damaged, and water had spread throughout the entire wing.” On Friday, the entire wing had been stripped of carpet, ceiling tiles and insulation removed, and the teachers were working to empty the damaged classrooms in preparation of a move to temporary location within the building.
“I have to say the fire companies were awesome,” Dr. Stevenson said. “By the time I got here, Ellendale and Carlisle had set up troughs to channel water out the windows and using squeegees in the hallways to push water back into the classrooms that were already damaged in an attempt to keep other classrooms from being damaged.” Dr. Stevenson said that none of the children were wet during the incident as they were on the other side of the room when the pipe burst. All students at Morris were sent home on buses immediately after the incident.
“Originally, parents were told that this was a boiler fire,” Dr. Stevenson explained. “The staff thought the sprinklers had gone off in the classrooms, and when the custodians opened the door to the boiler room, they saw smoke and thought it was a fire. In fact, the smoke was due to the running of the fire pump due to the burst pipe, and not a fire at all. The fire pump does not run very often, so it smokes somewhat when it does start. There was no fire at the school, and the only problem was the broken pipe above the classroom.”
Morris was closed on Friday, January 10 so that staff could begin the clean-up process. Dr. Stevenson said that school resumed on Monday, January 13 as the majority of the damage had been fixed.
“We are replacing the carpet in the classrooms with tile, and we have to replace some carpet in the hallway,” Dr. Stevenson said. “That will need to be ordered and installed, so it may take some time, but every classroom except E8 and E9 will be ready for use on Monday. We have relocated Mrs. Messick and her neighbor, Janelle Layton, to other areas in the school temporarily.”