A frozen attic water pipe feeding Oak Park and River Forest High School’s sprinkler system burst in the early hours of Dec. 20, flooding the northern one-fifth of the school and causing an estimated $750,000 to $1 million in damages.

A quick response by Oak Park firefighters and OPRF administrators and staff will allow the school to open Monday morning, when classes were scheduled to resume after winter break. Of the 30 to 40 classrooms affected by the flood, 2 or 3 will not be ready for use by Monday, said Jim Miller, OPRF director of buildings and grounds.

The Oak Park fire department was the first on the scene after three 2 1/2-inch cast iron pipe fittings burst from ice formation around 4 a.m. on Dec. 20, Miller said.

Construction on the roof has left a 2- to 3-inch gap near the base of the attic while gutters are being replaced. The gutter normally would cover the gap. Cold north winds probably caused non-flowing water in the sprinkler system pipes to freeze, Miller said.

Miller doubted that the roofing company was to blame for the incident, but said that determination would be up to the school’s insurance company, which is expected to pick up the tab for the damages.

Once released, hundreds of gallons of water per minute flowed into the school. The flow set off the school’s fire pump, which automatically signaled the fire department. Because the pipe is buried in a hard to reach section of the attic, the sprinkler main spewed water for approximately an hour before fire fighters were able to locate the source, then shut off the sprinkler main valve, which is also difficult to access for safety reasons.

Running water ruined ceiling tiles, wallpaper and some carpet, and caused hardwood floors in art classrooms to warp. Some carpets were dried quickly enough to be salvaged. Water damage in the library destroyed some sets of old periodicals and building materials, but no books.

The smell of mold was absent in the building, except for in the library.

Mold was the primary concern after the water to the sprinkler system had been shut off, Miller said. A company that recently pitched its environmental services to the school, ACR, got to the scene by 8 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 20, Miller said.

The company brought in dozens of fan dryers, vacuums with sci-fi octopus-like tentacles dug into hardwood floorboards to suck out moisture below the floor’s surface, and giant clear plastic air sausages that delivered dry heated air throughout wet sections of the building.

The incident required the school to remove an asbestos panel that had been exposed during the cleanup.

Damage could have been worse if the building were not as old as it is, Miller said. The plaster walls, original to the 1913 building, were not damaged by the water.

“If this was drywall, it would really be a mess,” Miller said.

Timing was also a benefit to the school. The deluge gave crews two weeks to remove moisture, install new drop ceilings, make improvements that classrooms needed anyway, Miler said.

“It was lucky it happened when it did. Otherwise we probably would have had to have closed the school” a week, Miller said.

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