Maple Avenue Middle School’s 1,200 students stood out in the zero-degree cold for about ten minutes Thursday morning, when steam from a broken ventilation coil set off the fire alarm.
The coil froze and burst shortly after the school day began. Students were evacuated at 8:25, and back in the building by 8:37, says Assistant Principal Robert Loggins.
“There was so much steam you couldn’t see in the halls,” Loggins says.
The steam set off the fire alarms. At first staff thought there was a fire, but fire fighters determined it was the steam.
Students spent about two hours in the auditorium watching a video and listening to music until the hallways and classrooms were clear.
“The kids were very, very well behaved; they took it very seriously,” Loggins says. Staff provided space blankets to some students who were very cold.
A ceiling unit ventilator coil in one of the hallways on the first floor of the Excelsior House froze and broke, says Superintendent Michael Piccirillo. The hot water saturated the ceiling tiles and poured out. When the hot water hit the cold air of the hallway, dense steam was created. He says maintenance staff are assessing and repairing the problem.
The ventilator circulates the air in the building – hot air in the winter and fresh air from outside in the warmer months, Piccirillo says.
The district’s automated emergency phone call and email systems were set in motion immediately in order to contact parents in case the school had to close early. Piccirillo says the buses that had just dropped off elementary students were on standby to run Maple Avenue students home, if necessary.
“We try to cover as many avenues as we can… I don’t want to send kids home if nobody’s home,” he says, stressing that it’s crucial for all students to have current emergency contact information and emergency instructions on file.
Most students returned to their regular classrooms by about 10:30, but those in the affected hallway in Excelsior were relocated to other classrooms, Loggins says.
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