Race on to complete school fire code work before classes start


It’s hard to believe students and faculty will be walking the corridors or using the rooms of Pilgrim High School in less than a month.

Yes, summer vacation is coming to an end but fire safety code improvements have yet to be completed in the sprawling school. Many rooms are without doors. Ceiling tiles removed reveal how interior walls have been extended to the roof above and metal studs and piles of wallboard are everywhere. The school appears to be more in a state of demolition than reconstruction.

But students shouldn’t be banking on a few extra days or weeks of summer vacation. That’s not likely to happen either at Pilgrim or any of the seven other schools undergoing $3.2 million in fire safety code upgrades to meet stricter regulations enacted following the Station Nightclub fire more than nine years ago, says Paul Jansson.

Interim Assistant Director of Buildings and Grounds, Jansson said Tuesday that all the school projects are on time and under budget. This round of projects is the first of three, each involving two secondary and six elementary schools to be completed over the next three years.

“It’s moving along. It’s a tremendous undertaking,” Jansson said of the work to be done. The department got a jump on the work by seeking bids in February and lining up three contractors that have all had experience with fire safety code work long before kids left classrooms for the summer. Contracts went to E.W. Burman and Maron Construction, both Rhode Island contractors and Shawmut Construction of Boston.

Of the schools, Pilgrim involves the most work.

Shawmut's supervisor on the job, Greg Curran, said 172 doors are being replaced and walls are being extended throughout the structure. At least 50 workers are on the job daily. As the code requires, multiple means of egress demands the installation of more than 50 emergency exit windows. The window replacements will come after school has started for the academic year, as their delivery is delayed.

Alternatively, the department could have elected to install additional doors in classrooms, but this would have meant more costly cuts in the walls.

Work at the other schools is a step ahead.

Hoxsie Elementary should be completed this week, Jansson said. Work at the other elementary schools, Norwood, Oakland Beach, Cedar Hill, Park and Holliman, should be finalized soon after. Winman is the other secondary school undergoing fire code upgrades this summer.

According to the code, Jansson said, storage rooms must have a one-hour fire rating while places of assembly such as the cafeteria and auditorium must have a two-hour rating.

Warwick Fire Marshal Peter Marietti is overseeing the work. He represents the Rhode Island Fire Safety Board of Appeal and Review.

“I’m very happy to see the work being done in a timely fashion,” Marietti said.

He said a few minor adjustments would be required to bring Pilgrim into full compliance, including linking smoke detectors into the building’s alarm system. Heat detectors are already tied into the alarm.

Marietti said when the work is completed, schools “will be safer now than they have been in eons.”

Marietti said he has also been working closely with David Picozzi, acting director of Public Works, and Joseph Blake, who oversees municipal buildings, to ensure that city buildings are in compliance with the code.

The city administration and the council granted schools additional bonding authority to pay for the work.


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