"Limb, not quake, shuts down school"
June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:15 PM
"Fire District 3 volunteers respond to reports of an electrical fire at Langley Middle School Tuesday afternoon. The problem eventually led to closing the school on Friday.Jim Larsen, staff photoLangley Middle School had a big problem this week, but it wasn't caused by Wednesday's earthquake.Students and staff survived the earthquake fine. After evacuating, they were back indoors within 30 minutes. But for many students it was as cold inside as it was outside, because parts of the campus had no heat.The problem started Tuesday afternoon about an hour after school let out. Several people smelled smoke and the ensuing report prompted a large response from Fire District 3 volunteers and Langley police.Rick Pitts, school district facilities manager, said a cedar limb across the street fell on a power line that supplies electricity to the school. That resulted in a power shortage that damaged the school's three-phase electrical system.Volunteer Firefighter Jerry Beck is an electrical contractor and was the first expert on the scene. He said smoke was reported in several locations, including the boiler room, mechanical room and shop.Beck said the school's three-phase electrical system blew, resulting in single phasing, which he described as running on two of three legs. The single phasing resulted in overheated equipment in several areas.The worst damage was to a boiler pump, which circulates hot water around the buildings to heat the school. Without the pump there's no hot water and no heat, Beck said.Pitts said the incident fried about five motors. He estimates the cost of replacing those motors at $4,000 total. The earthquake did play a role in delaying the repairs. The quake caused a total lack of communication with the mainland, he said. Pumps that otherwise could have arrived Thursday weren't expected until Friday.Principal Greg Willis said only portions of the buildings were without heat, so school was open on Wednesday and Thursday, but many students were cold. On Thursday, an effort was made to bring in space heaters, but that blew out some circuits, shutting down computers as well as the heaters.The main hallway rooms had no heat, and when it started raining the kids were getting wet as well as cold. We made it a couple days, Willis said. But on Thursday, the decision was made to cancel school on Friday.Teachers were coming to school on Friday, however. We'll try to find a warm room for them, Willis said.Willis said students were happy when given the day off Friday. But they shouldn't plan for an even longer weekend. The pumps will be replaced and the school will be operating normally on Monday. "