Quick clean-up gets Sussex Central High School ready after leak

Ceiling tiles collapsed in a second-floor hallway at Sussex Central High School. (Submitted photo)

GEORGETOWN — After Winter Storm Grayson’s bone-chilling blizzard blitz, Sussex Central High School was back in session Jan. 10 following four days off.

But that opening required some weekend response from custodial staff.

On Sunday, Jan. 7, the school’s custodial staff was called into action during the second round of the NFL’s wildcard weekend. Custodians and several others dealt with water spawned by two incidents — a fire pump malfunction and later a frozen pipe that burst — at the high school located on Patriots Way.

Shortly after 2 p.m., Jan. 7, the fire pump malfunction activated two sprinkler heads in the D-Wing mechanical penthouse, a third-floor unit that houses the HVAC system, said Sussex Central High School Principal Dr. Bradley Layfield.

Water quickly saturated and collapsed about a dozen ceiling tiles above a second-floor hallway.

“Obviously, these ceiling panels that are all throughout the school with these floating ceilings, it doesn’t take much to saturate them and then they just fall to pieces,” said Dr. Layfield. “The good news was of most of the flooding that occurred in any classrooms was just where the water from hallways spread out from there.”

Classroom ceilings did not collapse, although there was some spotty staining.

The fire pump malfunction alerted custodial staff and the Millsboro Fire Co. Sprinkler system activation caused a change in water pressure that triggered the fire panel sensor.

“It did take a while to clean up but hats off to what I would consider the most fabulous custodial crew in our district or the state of Delaware. By about 7 o’clock or 7:30 p.m. that night all of the water was removed,” said Dr. Layfield.

Then, around 7 p.m., staff discovered that a domestic water pipe along an exterior wall that services science labs had frozen and burst.

“It wasn’t going very long but it did release a lot of water. But they got it shut off and within about another hour to an hour and a half they had all of the water removed,” said Dr. Layfield.

Pipe repair necessitated cutting a hole in the wall.

“I think the custodians got out of here about 9 or 9:30 p.m. Sunday night so they missed all the NFL action,” said Dr. Layfield. “I was certainly blessed to have them all here with all hands on deck to get everything cleaned up.”

Several teachers, the school’s athletic director and three administrators assisted in the clean-up, Dr. Layfield noted.

Finishing touches the morning of Monday, Jan. 8 had the school was ready for business as usual. However, schools in the Indian River School District remained closed Jan. 8 and 9 due to continued poor road conditions throughout the county.

“If we had ourselves a two-hour delay on Monday we’d have been functioning as if nothing had ever happened,” said Dr. Layfield. “Those guys are miracle workers.”

There were rumors circulating on social media of a roof collapse, which was not the case.

“The roof did not cave in at Sussex Central High School,” said Indian River School District spokesman David Maull.

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