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When Des Plaines Schools Are Out For Summer, Fire Sprinklers Are In

Algonquin Junior High School received a renovation in the summer of 2010, which included a fire sprinkler system that protects students and faculty.

Des Plaines Community Consolidated School District 62 has deep-rooted history in its buildings. The earliest constructed building, South, was built over three-quarters of a century ago in 1934 during the Great Depression. As the population in the area grew over the next three decades, 10 additional educational facilities were built: Orchard Place, North, Algonquin, Cumberland, Forest, Central, Chippewa, Terrace, Plainfield, and Iroquois, which was the final school constructed in 1967.

With each of the buildings now outdated by today’s standards, school district board members and the community were eager to make necessary updates and improve the learning environments for the district’s 5,000 approximate students and those who work in the buildings. Throughout 2008, plans to renovate and modernize the schools were discussed, emphasizing aesthetics and the buildings’ systems operations.

A dropped ceiling allowed for easier installation of fire sprinklers.

The Des Plaines Fire Department Fire Prevention Bureau saw the renovation as the opportune time to present an upgrade in life safety and sought to convince the school district to include fire sprinkler in all eleven buildings.

With assistance and educational information about fire sprinklers provided by the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, Fire Inspector David Schuman and Division Chief Jeff Schuck presented at building assessment meetings with school officials. The fire department’s presentations were a success and during the 2008-2009 school year the Board of Education approved the fire sprinkler retrofit as part of the renovations.

Construction began in the spring of 2010 with the majority of work occurring during the summer months so as not to disrupt classroom learning and afterschool activities. During the renovation process, ceiling tiles were removed to expose the ceilings for access to various systems, which in turn was advantageous to the fire sprinkler contractors who needed to work above the tiles. By summer of 2010, four of the schools (Algonquin, Chippewa, Forest, and Cumberland) had already been fully retrofitted with fire sprinklers.

At the rate that the project is moving, the target to complete the fire sprinkler system installation before classes resume in the fall of 2012 is looking good with only seven more schools to complete in two summers.

Algonquin Junior High School is one of 11 schools in the Des Plaines school district that is being retrofitted with fire sprinklers.

“A special thanks goes to school board members Brenda Murphy, Stephanie Duckmann, Steve Adams, Raymond Imig, Sharon Lynch, James Poskozim and Robert Suriano, as well as Director of Maintenance and Operations John Pahlman, for addressing the fire safety issue,” says Schuman. “The ability to add fire sprinkler systems to eleven school buildings is a great accomplishment and it could have never been done without the great effort made by all parties involved. Most importantly, this project will make Des Plaines schools much safer for all our children and educators.”

Schuman also hopes that the experience he has shared in Des Plaines will influence others schools to do the same. “In future planning, the question that school boards, superintendents, and building committees must ask themselves is not ‘What if our school has a fire?’ but rather ‘How will our school be protected in the unfortunate event that a fire occurs?’ Given the fact that fires are occurring annually in schools, the decision to install fire sprinkler must be considered a number one priority during initial building construction planning.”

According to Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, the state of Illinois passed a statewide code in 1992 that requires fire sprinklers in all new construction school buildings. Lia credits Senator William Maher, Representative Mary Lou Cowlishaw and Orland Fire Protection District Fire Chief Robert Buhs for their successful legislation which has since protected over 1,000 school buildings with fire sprinklers.

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