Students at John Witherspoon Middle School (JW) caught a break last Thursday when an eighth-period (2:30 p.m.) fire led to the evacuation of the school. Although the fire was quickly contained, students were not allowed to return to the building because of the presence of smoke. Students whose backpacks were inside the building were given a reprieve from homework that evening.
Director of Plant/Operations Gary Weisman said that the fire began as a contractor “was wrapping up a little bit of investigative work on one of the electrical panels. The panel sparked and caused a little bit of a fire.”
“It was something that happened; it’s not necessarily a referendum-related fix,” Mr. Weisman said, referring to the Monday, September 24 election when Princeton residents will go to the polls to decide on a $10.9 referendum slated for infrastructure repairs to school buildings and grounds.
If the school board referendum is passed next Monday, proposed work at JW includes updating the emergency generator circuit; “re-purposing” the old gym into media center; creating new auditorium seating and sound and lighting systems; installing energy-saving window awnings; and air-conditioning the second-floor classrooms.
The most important thing about the Thursday fire, said Mr. Weisman, is that nobody got hurt. The Princeton fire department responded immediately “as always,” and provided fans to quickly rid the building of smoke. The contractor who thought he was “wrapping up” his work for the day ended up staying on site until one a.m., replacing the panel, putting in new parts, and testing the affected circuits. The building reopened the following morning.
New Jersey adopted new fire drill regulations in 2009 and 2010 requiring public schools to hold one fire drill and one security drill during the first 10 days of the start of the school year, and one drill each for every month school is in session.
No one has said how last week’s fire will be counted.