BEACON FALLS — A routine inspection of the fire sprinkler system at Laurel Ledge Elementary School on Wednesday led to the discovery of a major problem — there was no water going to the sprinklers.
“We had no sprinklers and we didn’t even know,” Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said. “Once we found out, we reached out to the town and got it working.”
First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the town contacted Aquarion Water Company, which laid a new water main in front of the school last year during a project to reconstruct Highland Avenue.
Peter Fazekas, director of public relations for Aquarion, said the two separate lines that feed the sprinkler system were not connected to the new water main.
“We were not aware that the two lines were not connected until Wednesday,” Fazekas said.
The company sent out a crew from Burns Construction to dig up the road and connect the lines, Bielik said. The crew was on site until 2 a.m., he said, and everything was working as it should by Thursday morning.
While the problem has been fixed, questions remain as to what caused it in the first place.
“Obviously we take these matters very seriously and we are conducting an investigation of what took place regarding this incident,” Fazekas said.
Bielik said it’s too early to speculate on what happened, and the town will wait for the results of Aquarion’s investigation.
“We’re staying out of their way, and they’re going to let us know what they come up with,” Bielik said.
The town reconstructed Highland Avenue last year. The project included widening the road, moving telephone poles and repaving. The project started in late May.
Before starting the project, Bielik said, the town reached out to Aquarion to let them know there would be an opportunity for the company to lay a new water main when the town dug up the road. He said the Highland Avenue section is one of the oldest residential neighborhoods in town. The water infrastructure is all original, he said, and almost 100 years old.
Aquarion took the town up on its offer. Fazekas said the work was contracted to Burns Construction, and the water project was completed in September 2016.
The water main project was separate from the reconstruction project, Bielik said, and Aquarion’s responsibility.
Fazekas said the company wouldn’t have gone into the school to check if the sprinkler system was working after the water main work was complete. He said the inspector for the water main project was Nafis & Young, which was the same inspector the town used for the reconstruction project.
The town contracts with Nafis & Young for engineering services.
The entire reconstruction project was completed on Nov 4, Bielik said.
The school district has to inspect the sprinkler systems quarterly, Yamin said. The region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, hires Encore Fire Protection to do the inspections.
The last inspection at Laurel Ledge before this week was done on Nov. 8, four days after the reconstruction project was completed. According to a copy of the inspection report, the sprinklers were working and had adequate pressure.
On Wednesday, Bielik said, there was no pressure in the system and the water just trickled out.
Fazekas said the water company will look into the Nov. 8 inspection as part of its review.
The Highland Avenue reconstruction project cost about $550,000, which was partially covered by a $200,000 grant. The work on Wednesday dug up two portions of the road. The holes have been temporarily filled and have a cold patch on them now, Bielik said.
Bielik said he didn’t know the cost of the work and anticipates it will be paid for by Aquarion.
“Our expectations is that the cost to the town of Beacon Falls is going to be zero,” he said.
The issue didn’t interrupt school at Laurel Ledge.
Bielik said Fire Marshal Eddie Rodriguez was contacted when officials learned of the problem and a fire watch was established. He said a fire watch has a four-hour window to resolve an issue before evacuation is required. The issue was discovered later in the school day on Wednesday and fixed before Thursday morning, so school wasn’t affected, he said.
Yamin said he planned to send a notice about the incident to parents today. He said he was “flabbergasted” to learn of the issue, but happy nothing serious occurred while the sprinklers weren’t working.