Adding a fire suppression sprinkler system will be discussed for the new Betsy Ross School addition at this week’s Forest Park Elementary District 91 School Board meeting, Superintendent Lou Cavallo said.
A local retired firefighter and a state plumbing inspector brought up concerns at the district’s community meeting Jan. 14. Audience members pointed out the proposed 5,820 sq. foot addition had no fire sprinkler coverage. They also complained the rooftop playground on the new addition would be dangerous in a fire for preschool-3rd grade students.
Retired Forest Park firefighter Mario Tricoci said he asked at the meeting why the addition had no sprinkler coverage and was told by state law the architect did not need to include sprinklers for additions under 7,200 sq. feet or the take up less than 50 percent of a school’s existing footprint.
That didn’t sit well with the former fire lieutenant.
“Sprinklers are the best fire suppression for schools,” Tricoci said. “Schools are filled with combustible material. If there’s a fire in a school with a sprinkler system nobody hears about it, because it’s put out quickly.”
Additions at Grant-White and Garfield schools included sprinkler systems.
Tricoci said he also worried the elevator design was not large enough to accommodate a stretcher with a person lying down.
“These are the things firemen think about,” Tricoci said.
Fire protection and other building codes for schools are determined by the Illinois State Board of Education. School architects Wight and Co. showed the plan to the ISBE and the Forest Park Zoning Board of Appeals, said Forest Park Fire Chief Steve Glinke.
“I was impressed by the professionalism and credentials of the architects,” Glinke said. “I can’t imagine school architects doing something unsafe and the state board of education signing off on that,” Glinke added.
Glinke said he supports sprinklers in general. In 2010, Glinke worked to pass a local housing code ordinance requiring suppression sprinklers in all new construction in Forest Park. Glinke said the cost of installing sprinklers ranged between $3.50 – $4 per sq. foot.
“If the school were under my jurisdiction, we would absolutely prefer sprinklers,” Glinke said. Schools are full of synthetic materials that burn quickly, he said. “Today a fire doubles in size every minute,” Glinke said. “Sprinklers are the best form of fire suppression.” However, Glinke added, schools already had fire drills and fire alarms, enough to keep children safe if there is a fire, he said.
State Plumbing Inspector Andrew Thiesse has three children who attend or will attend Betsy Ross.
“I’ve been in construction my whole life,” Thiesse said. “Sprinklers are one of the best investments you can have, especially with children involved,” Thiesse said.
Rooftop playground questioned
Thiesse and Tricoci also questioned the Wight & Co. architects decision to place a playground on the roof for children between preschool and 3rd grade.
“If you have a playground on top of a building, how do you get down if there’s a fire?” Tricoci asked. “The stairwell [in the design] is unprotected, so children would have to enter the building, into the fire area.”
The rooftop playground is located over the gym/eating area in the north end of the school and above a prep-kitchen.
Tricoci remembers the 1980 Bolingbrook fire at Oak View Elementary School where the roof collapsed, trapping six firefighters inside the building. It was the Bolingbrook incident that prompted the state to pass mandatory sprinklers in new school construction over a certain size.
“When I saw the playground on the roof, it just upset me,” Tricoci said.
Thiesse said he inspects more than 150 schools a year in six counties through his job with the state of Illinois. “I have never seen a playground on the roof before,” Thiesse said.
But Glinke said he had no problem with the rooftop playground.
“I see it as a creative use of space,” he said.
School Board member Mary Win Connor said the board would be hearing from the architect at the Feb. 13 board meeting.
“We will be hearing about what would be needed to install sprinklers,” Connor said.
Connor pointed out sometimes sprinklers themselves cause damage. “If there’s a wastebasket fire in the computer room and the sprinklers go off, it can ruin all the computers,” she pointed out.