When the District 91 school board meets this week, its architects will present details on the cost and the relative virtues of including fire sprinklers in the planned addition to Betsy Ross School. 

The first iteration of those plans – approved by the Illinois State Board of Education and the Forest Park Zoning Board of Appeals – did not include a sprinkler system for the simple reason that state code, which regulates school construction, does not require the fire suppression tool in additions of less than 7,200 square feet. The addition at Betsy Ross is pegged at 5,800 square feet.

Concerns over the lack of sprinklers were first raised by residents at a public meeting in January. Steve Glinke, Forest Park’s fire chief, said that while he is impressed by the work of the architects that he is generally supportive of sprinklers and he points out that schools are typically filled with flammable materials. It was Glinke who a few years back pushed for and then won approval of a local ordinance requiring sprinkler systems in all new construction within the village.

From our perspective, if the village requires sprinklers in all new buildings then the school board ought to honor that safety precaution even though state law does not require it. That seems especially prudent in a school building being used exclusively by our youngest children – preschool through 3rd grade. You can talk all day about the effectiveness of fire drills and fire alarms. But in an emergency situation every protection is due to children from three to eight.

We respect the school district being watchful on costs. But here the priority is safety over savings.