A classroom in the elementary school wing of Kaycee School was flooded with an estimated 300 gallons of water on Jan. 6 after a pipe in the building’s fire suppression system burst.
District administrators said a litany of issues contributed to the burst pipe, including below zero temperatures on the day of the incident and a fire suppression system the district believes was incorrectly installed when the building was built.
At Monday night’s school board meeting, Kaycee School Principal Jake Evans recounted the events of the day, saying it all began around 1 p.m. when a teacher called to let him know that water was dripping from a light in the ceiling in her classroom.
Upon moving the ceiling tiles, Evans said, he found that the water was actually coming from above the sheetrock that sits above the tiles.
“Now remember, we’re at about negative 8 degrees outside — I’m pretty sure there’s not water coming off the roof running at this time,” he said. “So, I knew that we had a little bit of a problem at that point in time.”
What caused the burst pipe, Evans said, was not that it actually froze, but that warmer air from the classroom rose into the space above the sheetrock where the pipes are located, allowing some water to thaw and the pipe to break.
When the pipe eventually broke, he said, chaos ensued. The breakage triggered the fire alarm, so teachers and students not yet aware of what had occurred began to evacuate the building and head to the football field in below zero temperatures.
“That caused a frantic panic for me and we got everybody back into the building, in the hallways, we got the fire suppression system shut down and fire alarms off,” Evans said.
Back inside, no one knew whether the problem would occur in other classrooms, so water was shut off building wide and students and teachers in some classrooms began to evacuate the rooms and frantically move things to the gym.
Cameron Kukuchka, district director of technology and innovation, told the school board that there was minimal damage to technology in the building from either the water or from the frantic moving.
Eventually, water was restored to the building in all but the affected areas and cleaners were called who were able to get to Kaycee School within two hours of the incident.
The root of the issue of the pipe breakage, according to Evans and district facilities director John Zink, is that the pipes for the portion of the fire suppression system that broke were installed above the sheetrock in the ceiling in a largely unheated space.
“That should’ve never been allowed per code when the building was built,” Zink said at the school board meeting.
There is unheated space at the end of each wing of the school, where ornamental, angled rooftops create the extra space above the ceiling.
This extra space contains no heating elements — it relied on just two heat registers coming from the classroom below it, Zink said — and, when coupled with the below zero temperatures, allowed the pipes to freeze.
Zink said that the system in these portions of the building should have been a dry system — meaning no water sits in the pipes that can freeze — but for some reason had been installed as a wet system.
“The system itself, we believe, was incorrectly installed and we are going to change that,” Zink said.
Despite the incident on Jan. 6, students were back in classrooms at Kaycee School on Monday thanks to special permission from the State Fire Marshal that allowed the facilities team to the district to temporarily remove and plug the affected sprinkler heads.
Evans said it’s important to note that all classrooms still have fire suppression heads in them, because the now removed heads were just the ones located in the unheated space above the sheetrock in the ceiling.
Still, the special permission requires that teachers and administrators do “fire watch every 15 minutes when those classrooms are occupied,” Zink said.
This means teachers and administrators must visually confirm that there is no smoke or fire in the building every 15 minutes.
The fire marshal has given the district a temporary 30-day permit to remain in Kaycee School, Zink said, while the district works to repair the issues.
The longest portion of the fix will entail waiting on parts to arrive, Zink said, but it’s crucial that Kaycee’s new fire suppression system be changed to a dry system, so no incidents like this occur in the future.