Repairs for the ceramics kiln due to last year’s fire to be completed in next few months

October 30, 2018 — by Anna Novoselov

After a severe rainstorm, water leaks through the temporary patch covering the roof damage from the flue fire that occurred on Nov. 30, 2017. Puddles scatter the tiles near the kiln area of the ceramics room.

“It’s not easy,” said art teacher Diana Vanry, who has had to mop up the water every time it rains heavily in the months after the fire, “but I would rather have the new installation to [building] codes, and if it means waiting, I’ll do that.”

The fire was caused by the buildup of dust and other particles in the exhaust shaft, which ignited when the kiln was turned on. The roof’s frame caught on fire, damaging some power and gas lines near the ceramics room and leading to a whole-school evacuation and shortening of the school day.

According to Vanry, new school construction laws mandate that there must be more space surrounding kilns than in previous laws.

Tony Palma, the former SHS teacher who is now the director of facilities and operations for the district, said that the process of repairing the damage requires time and coordination. The repair process is extensive because the school needs to meet certain regulations and codes based on the Division of the State Architect state laws related to the construction of public buildings and schools.

“We're trying to line everything up, get all the work identified, and then go ahead and try to get the work to happen at the same time as quickly as possible,” Palma said.

Shortly after the fire, the school had various professionals identify the damage, patch the roof so that the room could be used as a classroom and test the facility for lead or any other hazardous materials (of which there were none). Now, the administration hopes to have the walls around the kiln removed to open the space to allow for new building codes, replace the plasterboard, order a couple new kilns and repair the roof.

Until the repairs are done, Vanry said the she is using an old kiln in the ceramics room to fire students’ ceramics pieces.

“It’s not as efficient as the one [that caught on fire],” she said. “It takes longer to fire projects and get them back to students.”

She said that two new kilns are scheduled to arrive in November.

In order to install the new kilns, construction workers will have to reconfigure the revamped ceramics room so that it meets building codes. The kiln area will be made larger by breaking down a storage room wall.

The school hopes that the work will be completed in early 2019. Because of this and the contractors’ tight schedules, construction will have to be done during the school day.

“The problem is that we’ve got classes going on,” Palma said. “We have to make sure that what work we complete disrupts class as minimally as possible.”

He estimates that the cost for repairs will be approximately $60,000, in addition to the $30,000 already spent.

Palma said that the school is fortunate the fire didn’t spread to different areas of the 200 wing. The smoke detector activated and the fire department to put out the fire quickly.

Even with regular building inspections, the reality is that fires can happen all the time, whether it’s from an electrical wire malfunction, spontaneous combustion or large heat source next to a kiln, he said.

“That’s why we practice fire drills every year,” Palma said. “When an accident happens, we want to be prepared to handle it.”

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