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Fire code issues abound at Gary schools

Officials including State Fire Marshal Jim Grees(second from left) discuss fire safety auditorium during an inspectiby state fire marshal office

Officials, including State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson (second from left) discuss the fire safety of the auditorium during an inspection by the state fire marshal office at Theodore Roosevelt College & Career Academy in Gary, Ind. Friday November 2, 2012. From left are Tom Stephens, with the State Fire Marshal's office, (from left) State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson, Kenny Smith, of the Gary School Corporation, Michael Washington, of the Gary School Corporation, Principal Terrance Little, and Will Moppins, facilities manager with EdisonLearning. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 6, 2012 6:09AM



Nearly all the schools in the Gary Community School Corp. have been cited for serious fire code violations by the Gary Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau.

Meanwhile on Friday, a contingent of officials including State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson inspected the Roosevelt College and Career Academy and told the Gary Community School Corp. to prepare a 30-day plan to rectify two outstanding code violations at the school.

Last month, Gary Fire Department Chief Inspector John A. Leslie Jr. met with new Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt because he was disturbed that outstanding violations still had not been corrected.

Initially, Pruitt was unaware of the problems, but mentioned them recently at a School Board meeting.

She said all the principals received inspection forms and were told to have the violations addressed.

“It’s becoming a major issue,” she said.

School officials said they were assessing and prioritizing the outstanding violations. Budget constraints have created a backlog of maintenance issues for the district.

‘Velt’ violations

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security cited the Roosevelt College and Career Academy with 13 fire and building code violations on Sept. 4.

The school is operated by EdisonLearning Inc. under a contract with the Indiana Department of Education, which took control of the school because of its poor academic record. The school is still owned and maintained, however, by the Gary Community School Corp., which is expected to fix the problems.

In July, EdisonLearning sued the school district, in part, because maintenance problems hadn’t been fixed.

Most of the violations at Roosevelt were considered minor such as burned-out bulbs in exit signs, and most had been corrected by Friday, when the state team made its visit.

But the two outstanding violations involved the lack of inspections on the auditorium’s sprinkler system and standpipe system, a type of rigid piping that connects a water supply to fire hoses.

Greeson said until the fire suppression systems are serviced, a certified firefighter should be in the auditorium whenever students are present. Greeson said he would talk to Fire Chief Teresa Everett about a possible partnership to safeguard the area quickly. He said a certified firefighter could volunteer his or her time. Typically, they earn about $30 an hour, he said.

The nonfunctioning elevator is the other major problem at Roosevelt.

Principal Terrance Little said one student in a wheelchair has to stay in the same classroom all day because he doesn’t have access to other floors.

A state inspector said the original elevator specifications need to be found to determine the type of jack system it uses. The elevator may need a safety bulkhead installed at the bottom of a hydraulic cylinder to meet state code. The inspector said if the system already has the bulkhead, “it’s off the list.”

Other schools

Leslie said the Fire Department annually inspects all the schools in the city, making sure their sprinkler systems have been serviced along with fire extinguishers, alarms, and that there are functioning exit signs, smoke detectors and other safety apparatus.

Leslie said inspections were done in July, August and September and schools had 30 days to correct violations. He said when the violations weren’t fixed, he set up a meeting with Pruitt.

“We saw violations from last year that were still outstanding,” Leslie said. “It’s my responsibility to make sure the Gary Fire Department isn’t liable for anything. Hopefully, we can get some things taken care of.”

Leslie said he asked for a report from Pruitt by Oct. 15 on the violations, but still hasn’t received one. He plans to revisit the schools Monday.

“Some schools have bulbs out in the exit signs, some fire alarms panels don’t work. When we go into a boiler room, there’s supposed to have an updated certificate encased in a glass case. Some had no certificates on the wall.”

Leslie says he’s concerned about the ongoing issues.

“I’d call not having a sprinkler or fire alarm system service a serious deficiency and it’s at multiple schools,” Leslie said.

The only school not cited, out of 16, was newly renovated Frankie McCullough Academy for Girls.

School Board member Marion Williams, who heads the board’s building and grounds committee, said the district sorely needs a facilities plan to address maintenance issues.

“More and more, we need to hold people accountable and manage what we’re responsible for. We need a plan for things we consider crucial like boiler and roof problems. That’s why you need a person in the building checking on these things every day.”



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