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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Broken Fire Sprinkler Floods School Gymnasium

An auxiliary gymnasium at Black Hills High School in Tumwater is expected to remain closed for several days as it dries out from water damage following a burst fire sprinkler pipe.

Fire crews responded to an alarm from the broken pipe in a storage room next to the gym Saturday afternoon. By the time the water was shut off, more than an inch had flooded the gym floor, according to Tumwater School District Assistant Superintendent Bob Kuehl.

Temperatures dipped to a frigid low of 14 degrees in the Olympia area Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Today’s forecast was partly sunny with a high near 42 degrees and a low around 36 degrees. The National Weather Service reports there is a chance of lowland snow showers by the weekend.

The weekend’s freezing temperatures also caused water problems at several schools in Lacey. Fire sprinklers broke at Lakes, Chambers Prairie and Horizons elementary schools and a domestic water pipe burst at Woodland Elementary School, according to North Thurston Public Schools spokeswoman Courtney Schrieve . She described the damage as minimal.

At Black Hills High School, most of the water was mopped up over the weekend. However since the gym has a floating hardwood floor, there are concerns about moisture on the underside of the flooring and in the gym’s subfloor.

“We are working with specialists right now to try and dry out the gym,” Kuehl said. That includes heating fans and dehumidifiers that can help dry the area beneath the gym floor surface.

The district had reduced power usage in all of its school buildings, which began winter break Dec. 18. Officials believe the lower temperature inside the building, coupled with the extreme cold outside, caused water in the pipe to freeze, Kuehl said.

School districts routinely turn down their thermostats when classes aren’t in session.

“It’s a balance between trying to conserve as much energy as we can without putting any of our buildings in liability,” Kuehl said.

District officials also are trying to find out exactly why the interior pipe – which runs between an older part of the building and an area of newer construction – froze in the first place.

“It wasn’t freezing in the school,” Kuehl said.

District officials don’t have an estimate for the damage. Most likely, the repairs will be covered by insurance.

“The damage could continue to mount depending on what happens to the floor,” Kuehl said. “The next four or five days will really tell the extent of the damage.”

Black Hills uses a larger gym for varsity sports events, so closure of the auxiliary gym will have the most impact on physical education classes and freshman and junior varsity extracurricular events.

“For the most part, we’ll just have to double up on usage in the other gymnasium,” Kuehl said. “There will be some rescheduling.”

Black Hills athletic director Don Farler said today’s boys junior varsity game against Timberline has been moved to Timberline High School and will be played at 4 p.m. The C team already was scheduled to play at Timberline today, but the game time has been changed to 5:30 p.m.

Last week’s snow and cold snap also broke outside sprinkler systems at Boston Harbor and Centennial elementary schools in the Olympia School District. Those systems will be repaired when the weather gets warmer.

“It’s not unusual for this to happen in this kind of weather,” district spokesman Peter Rex said.

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