School board chairman downplays report on Shelton High fire code issues

Shelton Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden is adding his voice to those who think a 2012 report by the state fire marshal’s office (SFM) pointing out 579 fire code violations at Shelton High School is overly critical.

“Clearly they were looking to run up the numbers,” Holden said at this week’s Board of Education meeting.

Holden used a somewhat crude analogy to make his point. He said if there had been “flatulence” during the SFM inspection, the high school probably would have been cited for having gas problems.

“They analyzed our school like they do the space shuttle before a launch,” he said.

State approved design plans

Holden said the more serious problems pointed out in the report mostly are related to “design flaws” from the building’s original construction plan and subsequent expansion and renovation plan, both of which needed state approval.

“Some of the onus for these flaws fall on the state,” he said.

Some of the problems highlighted in the report involved “ticky-tacky things,” he said.

“The school is basically a safe structure,” Holden insisted. “I don’t we should be panicked about it.”

Other local officials agree

Holden’s remarks basically echo those made by Mayor Mark Lauretti and School Supt. Freeman Burr after the SFM report was released on April 11.

The fire code violations pointed out in the SFM report are based on inspections made from May 2011 to July 2011.

Shelton officials have said some of the problems in the report already have been rectified, and others should be handled in the future.

“We’ll address the issues,” Holden said this week.

Complaints led to investigation

The investigation into conditions at Shelton High was initiated based on complaints concerning the actions of Shelton Fire Marshal James Tortora.

State Fire and Life Safety Supervisor Terry A. Brouwer of SFM wrote that many of the violations cited “appear to be a result of incomplete or deficient work” performed during the 2006 addition and renovation project at the high school.

“The responsibility for ensuring code compliance at Shelton High School remains with the Shelton Fire Marshal,” Brouwer wrote in an April 11 letter that accompanied the report when it was released. “Our office, however, remains available to assist in the development of a plan of correction.”

The problems

Shelton High is a four-story, 312,740-square-foot building that opened in 1974. The 2006 project involved a 7,470-square-foot addition and renovating parts of the existing structure.

According to the SFM report, 64 violations were on the first floor, 151 on the second floor, 168 on the third floor, and 196 on the fourth floor.

Some of the violations cited involve the doors, wall barriers, emergency and exit lighting, signage, windows, clearances, and spacing between items.

Common problems were unprotected wall penetrations, holes in doors from removed hardware, painted-over UL listing labels, electrical boxes without plates or covers, use of extension cords, and the lack of at least one window in certain classrooms.

Insurance money

At the recent school board meeting, BOE member Timothy Walsh III was critical of the city for not sharing some of the insurance settlement money after a fire at Shelton High a few years ago.

“The city got $2.1 million from the insurance company and just put it in their pocket,” Walsh said.

Walsh said some of the insurance money should have gone to the BOE since the damage claim included items belonging to the school system, such as destroyed educational supplies. He said he is “frustrated” by the situation, blaming Mayor Mark Lauretti for not directing some of the funds to the school district.

In reaction, Lauretti said he has no idea what Walsh is talking about. “All the money went back into the building,” the mayor said. “In fact, we appropriated extra money.”