Water woes beyond snow: Sullivan County's Rock Springs Elementary hit by burst sprinkler; 20 rooms affected

Rick Wagner • Feb 9, 2016 at 6:30 PM

KINGSPORT — After two days of water removal efforts because a burst sprinkler sent water into 20 rooms and some hallways, Rock Springs Elementary is to reopen Wednesday unless all Sullivan County schools miss the day for wintry weather, as they did Tuesday.

Charles Hubbard, facilities and maintenance manager for the county school system, said damage is still being assessed from the burst sprinkler head in the library but that he and Principal Josh Davis decided that the school is ready to operate Wednesday. He said he understands the insurance deductible for the event is $50,000 and that he has no idea if it would be met.

So far, school officials said about 2,000 books from the library, some library mats and older carpet were the only total losses from the water, plus vinyl baseboards from some classrooms and hallways were removed and thrown away so that sheet rock underneath them could dry. He said no computers or technology were lost to water damage. It affected the library, music room and 18 classrooms. Two classrooms, 141 and 145, had an odor. Older carpet was removed in one room, but newer carpet squares dried quickly after water extraction with no lingering odors.

“I got the call about 1:40 yesterday (Monday) morning,” Hubbard said at the school Tuesday afternoon as about 30 fans and some dehumidifiers hummed through much of the building. “I had called three or four of my guys on the way. I knew it couldn’t be good.”

The culprit was a sprinkler head near a wall in the library, which he and librarian Beth Geno said was a location that minimized the loss of books and prevented the loss of computers and other technology. An alarm that sensed a dip in the 160-pound water pressure normally on the sprinkler lines alerted authorities, and Hubbard said the Warriors Path Volunteer Fire Department had the sprinklers shut off by the time he got to the school about 2:15 a.m. A similar incident flooded the band room at Sullivan North High School in November of 2013.

Hubbard said the burst head at rock Springs was replaced and the system was back up by about 8 a.m. Water was in some first grade areas, parts of the second, third, fourth and fifth grade rooms, but none in kindergarten areas.

“Right now it looks like between 1,500 and 2,000” books are damaged beyond use, Geno said as she went through books in the library Tuesday afternoon.

Hubbard said affected parts of the building got no more than an inch or 1.5 inches of water and that the maintenance staff removed the bulk of the water quickly through the wee hours of Monday into Monday evening, with efforts continuing Tuesday with the free help of Disaster Cleaning & Restoration of Johnson City.  He said that business is locally managed by Chad MItchell, a former student of his when he was a career technical education instructor at Sullivan North.

The business, which has done water restoration work in the past for the county school system, continues to run moisture tests and is letting the system use some of its fans. Fans and dehumidifiers will run Tuesday night but be removed Wednesday if there is school and then some placed back after school, Hubbard said. The quick removal of the moisture should avoid mold or mildew, he said.

“We’ve been doing this stuff for years,” maintenance employee Tom Galloway said as he watched the carpet extractor operated by fellow employee Matt Ramsey. “Every once in a while, this happens.” He said the most common water issues are from burst sprinklers and water lines.

Rock Springs opened in 1979, while North opened in 1980. The sprinklers Monday spewed out a black oily substance before clear water as they did at North. Hubbard said he believes that substance is to keep the sprinklers from rusting.

In the video below, county schools maintenance employee Matt Ramsey operates the carpet extractor:

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