Power Surge Causes Damage To School

SHERMAN — For most people, a power outage is a minor inconvenience. For Sherman Central School District, it was a headache that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

On Dec. 17, 2018, while school was in session, the power suddenly went out at the school and remained out for two and a half hours. Later in the day, the power went out again, for about a half hour.

“When it went out, we heard three loud pops in the building,” said Sherman Superintendent Michael Ginestre. “You could smell that hot, electrical smell.”

While the power was out, Ginestre and Sherman Principal Bryna Booth decided to continue classes as usual.

“There was plenty of heat in the building while the students were here,” Ginestre said.

Once the power came back on, Sherman Director of Facilities Jared Oehlbeck said he and his maintenance crew began examining the situation and found that extensive damage had been caused throughout the school building because of a massive power surge.

“I was surprised. At first we didn’t know what had happened,” Ginestre said. “Jared and his team went through and saw that every power strip in the building had blown.”

All of the boilers had ceased to function, Ginestre said. Ginestre, Booth and Oehlbeck stayed at the school past 10 pm to determine what course of action to take.

Because Oehlbeck was able to get one of the boilers working, it was decided that school would be open on the Dec. 18.

“We didn’t miss one minute of school,” Ginestre said. “Jared said ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ And by morning, there was heat in the building.”

During the next two days, Oehlbeck and Sherman groundskeeper, Ray Spacht, and building maintenance mechanic, Joe Matkovich, went through every room in the school, cataloging the damage. “This was definitely a challenge. The first thing was the heat.” Oehlbeck said. “Then we went room to room to assess the damage.”

The work needed to repair the damage was costly. When all was said and done, the price tag for repairs to the main building totaled just under $80,000. Furthermore, the second power outage caused significant damage to the bus garage, costing nearly $17,000 to repair, Oehlbeck said.

Three of the boilers needed new control panels which cost nearly $18,000 to replace, including labor “Those boards were charred pretty badly,” Ginestre said. Additionally, the fire alarm system required nearly $20,000 worth of repairs.

“The fire alarm was functional at all times,” Oehlbeck said. “We had them (Johnson Controls) come in and test the system. It was working but they said there were parts that could go at any time.”

Another big expense was incurred by the need to have SmartEdge, the district’s building controls contractor, spend nearly two weeks in the building “picking apart the system,” Oehlbeck said. Parts and labor from this totaled more than $28,000.

All in all, there were more than 20 areas of repair, including 50 new surge protectors, elevator parts and labor, 50 electronic light ballasts, 36 electric actuators, circuit boards for the door access, and one microwave.

Despite the extensive amount of damage, the cause of the power outage and surge has still not been determined, Oehlbeck said. The school has submitted a claim with National Grid, but have not received a definitive response.

The district may have an unexpected ally in the resolution of the claim.

However. Ginestre said that he received a call from Sen. Schumer’s office. ”

They wanted updates on the claim with National Grid to make sure we are reimbursed for the damage,” he said.

While it is impossible to plan for every sort of emergency, Sherman does all it can to be prepared, Ginestre said. The school has an emergency response plan in place and conducts regular drills.

“The most important aspect of preparation is to make sure you don’t panic in these situations,” Ginestre said. “You go with the plan and keep everybody safe.”