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Fitchburg High Classroom Fire Left Big Bill for Repairs

August 8, 2018

A second-floor classroom at Fitchburg High School sustained extensive damage in a fire on July 3. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

FITCHBURG -- Damage from a fire caused by a fish tank at Fitchburg High School last month is expected to cost in the “higher end” of six figures to repair, according to Superintendent of Finance and Operations Robert Jokela.

“To be conservative, it’s about $500,000,” he said.

Of this sum, Jokela said the district will pay a $50,000 deductible and the the city’s insurance policy, provided by Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association, will cover the remainder.

Repairs are ongoing at the high school, which is expected to reopen when classes start on Aug. 30, though a couple of the damaged classrooms may not be ready by this time, he said.

According to Fire Chief Kevin Roy, the Fitchburg Fire Department received an automated notification of a fire alarm activated at the school shortly before 11 p.m. on July 3. The department responded to the small fire caused by a pump on a fish tank in a second-floor science classroom and used a hand extinguisher to put out the flames, he said.

Though the physical damage was limited to one classroom -- a $9,000 cost, according to fire department estimates -- smoke from the fire spread through the first and second floor of the wing bordering the athletic fields.

“The cleaning and smoke removal process is the most time consuming and expensive portion of it,” Jokela said.

On Tuesday, stacks of new ceiling tiles filled the side entrance. These tiles will replace those damaged by smoke on the first and second floor of the building. Carpets in two first floor classrooms were also being replaced.

On the second floor, the classroom where the fire started has a new front wall and floor. Rolls of new insulation were laying on the floor, ready for installation.

The insurance company contracted ServiceMaster to do much of the clean-up and sub-contractors are expected to repair plumbing, electrical and flooring, according to Jokela.

Superintendent Andre Ravenelle said he was unsure if parents were notified of the fire, however, the fire happened after the end of the school year and was not expected to affect the high school’s ability to reopen.

School Committee members said they received an email from Ravenelle notifying them of the damage. School Committee Vice Chair Peter Stephens said the policy and facilities subcommittee are discussing how the district should handle electronics not issued by the school, including fish tank pumps, at a meetings this month.

Ravenelle said though the origin of the fire seems unlikely, Fitchburg is not the only school to have this problem.

“Who would have thought that a fish tank would have caught on fire?” he said.

Officials suspect a fish tank might be to blame for a fire that damaged 12 classrooms and the school’s gymnasium at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School on July 31, Wicked Local reported.

The fire is the latest in a number of insurance claims made over the past year, from the burst steam pipe at Crocker Elementary School to the B.F. Brown fire to damage to the Crocker Field Concession Stand. According to City Auditor Calvin Brooks, these claims caused the city’s insurance rate to increase by $250,000, as reflected in the current budget.

Despite the damage at Fitchburg High School, Jokela said two fish survived fire.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins.

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