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School Officials Endorse Fire Safety Systems Upgrade at Elementary Schools

Now the Rocky Hill Town Council must decide whether to approve and fund the improvements to the schools' fire prevention systems.

If the Town Council follows the Board of Education's recommendation, the West Hill and Stevens elementary schools will have their fire prevention systems overhauled and upgraded.

School officials unanimously endorsed a plan Thursday night presented by the town Joint Facilities Committee that includes a revamped fire alarm system, sprinkler installation and removal of dropped ceilings.

The proposal is more limited in their scope than the original changes recommended, which would have cost more than $18 million and required a referendum vote.

The plan will now go to town council members for their consideration.

The predecessor to local Fire Marshal Rich Renstrom told the school board that district schools were "grandfathered in" under older fire safety regulations, even though these were revised in 1999. In 2005, the state updated its building and fire safety codes again, and, in accordance with the changes, Rocky Hill was notified of a list of infractions in its schools that rendered them non-compliant, most glaringly, the absence of elementary school sprinklers.

Details on just what the district had to do to comply with the new regulations were not drafted until 2010, to give the board time to study and assess the requirements, at which time they were incorporated into a comprehensive school improvement plan, which was defeated by voters at a referendum.

In May, Renstrom completed an updated fire safety assessment of the district schools in which he identified 50 violations and again highlighted the lack of sprinkler systems in Stevens and West Hill. Following the release of this report, the Joint Facilities Committee commissioned cost estimates for sprinklers and brought their findings and recommendations before the school board.

Thursday night, school officials resolved to post all materials relevant to the matter on the district website in order to educate the public about the history of the issue. Aside from concern over criticism over the delay in action on the sprinklers, members agreed that they needed to assure elementary school parents who may be worried about their children’s safety.

Accompanying the other documents that the board will post on the site, members will include a statement from Renstrom declaring that West Hill and Stevens can safely open the school year next week.    

Frank Drumm August 24, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Are these changes required by the updated building code or does it only apply to new construction or renovations? The safety of the children is paramount, but children have been attending these schools since at least before the 1999 code revision without incident to my knowledge. Is it wise or cost effective to repair piecemeal these decrepit buildings?
M Durkin September 06, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Sprinklers are required at elementary schools. The Town was placed on notice years ago and requirement is now being enforced by the State Fire Marshall. There are 2 payment options: 1) Town Council adds it to the budget in 2013 for installation in 2014. However, this would coincide with planned renovations for RHHS in 2014. Timing places the Summerscape program at RHHS and the summer school program at Stevens at risk for loss of space if renovations are done simultaneously. 2) Town Council is likely to add referendum to Nov 2012 election. Voting yes in November would expedite the sprinkler project (to be completed before the RHHS project begins). Upcoming Town Council meetings to address timeframes and cost (projected $33/yr per avg household; projected total $2.3M). West Hill School plan in 1969 included sprinklers at $42K but they were cut from plan for option to go for a high tech TV system instead. There continues to be HVAC and overcrowding problems at Stevens School which require resolution.
Leo Voisey September 10, 2012 at 11:21 AM
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Harry September 11, 2012 at 02:22 PM
This is a sick joke, take the money out of the 45 MILLION for RHHS. WHY wasn't this part of the last referendum? Lets not forget the 10 MILLION for open space. It's only a matter of time and Rocky Hill will be filling for bankruptcy
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