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College Hill Elementary fire damage estimated at $400,000; possible electrical malfunction cited

August 14, 2013

An electrical malfunction in a closet is the most likely cause of the fire that heavily damaged College Hill Elementary early Monday afternoon, a high-ranking fire department official said.

The fire caused an estimated $400,000 in damage to the school and its contents, Capt. Stuart Bevis said, and thick black smoke made it difficult for fire crews to find where the fire started.

?There?s no indication it was anything but an accidental fire,? Bevis said.

The two second-floor classrooms that shared the closet were badly damaged by fire, he said, and flames also spread to structural spaces in that part of the building. There?s also water damage to the rooms below the fire site and extensive smoke damage throughout the building.

?There is at least smoke smell if not soot stains throughout the entire building? at First and Clifton, Bevis said.

A microwave oven and small refrigerator were in the closet, he said, but it?s not clear yet whether the fire started in one of those appliances or in electrical wiring in the closet.

?You would not recognize what they are ? they are just metal shells,? Bevis said of the microwave and refrigerator.

While disaster restoration businesses ?are miracle workers,? he said, it will be some time before the school will be ready for teachers, students and staff to return.

Teachers and students at College Hill Elementary in Wichita are awaiting word on whether and where they?ll start school this week. The first day of school for Wichita students is Wednesday.

Superintendent John Allison said Monday, ?We anticipate damage to be extensive enough that we may need to relocate students and staff for a period of time at the beginning of the school year.?

District officials expect to make further announcements and updates Tuesday afternoon.

The Wichita school district has several vacant school buildings, including Bryant Elementary in west Wichita and Longfellow Elementary at 2116 S. Main, which it keeps for emergencies.

No injuries were reported in the fire. Several windows were boarded up and broken glass still littered the pavement outside the south-side door on Tueday morning.

Teachers were planning to hold meetings Tuesday at Plymouth Congregational Church, across the street from College Hill.

This summer at College Hill, crews completed construction of a 5,800-square-foot multipurpose room and storm shelter and a connecting link from the current building to the new addition.

School staff and families had planned to celebrate completion of the project, part of the 2008 bond issue, during an open house and Meet-the-Teacher Night on Monday. That event was postponed.

Bevis called the fire unfortunate, but added that school staff were lucky.

It happened on a day when students weren?t at the school, he said.

Even though staff and students practice fire drills and probably would have handled it well, he said, ?it was pretty intense.?

?We did have a lot of active smoke,? Bevis said.


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