Tech headaches in D95 largely resolved after lightning strike

Apparent near miss at S.E. Gross fried phone and fire alarm relays, elevator panel

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By Bob Uphues


Officials at Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District scrambled to restore the fire alarm system at S.E. Gross School as well as phone and wireless service to Brook Park School and the district's administrative office in downtown Brookfield after a lightning strike disabled those signals at about 6:20 p.m. on Sept. 27.

Full wireless capacity was restored to Brook Park School not until Oct. 10, but officials were able to at least restore phone service and some wireless capacity to the school by Sept. 30, using a decommissioned radio transmitter atop S.E. Gross Middle School.

"It made for an eventful weekend," said Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski.

Workers were able to restore the fire alarm system's radio relay a week after the lightning strike disabled it.

While the system wasn't wirelessly connected with the dispatch center for a time, said Kuzniewski, the alarm and fire sprinkler systems at S.E. Gross Middle School still functioned, and would have worked had an alarm been pulled inside the building or a smoke detector activated. 

However, it would have taken a 911 call from the school to actually report an incident, like it did on the night of the lightning strike.

The call to West Central Consolidated Communications (WC3) on Sept. 27 was made by S.E. Gross School Principal Ryan Evans, who lives just a few doors from the school and heard lightning strike.

"It was tremendous," said Evans of the lightning strike, which simultaneously produced a violent thunderclap.

"You could feel it, it was so close," Evans said.

Almost immediately, Evans received a phone call from an S.E. Gross faculty member who was inside the school at the time, informing Evans that fire alarms were going off inside the school.

Evans called 911 and went to S.E. Gross School. The alarm panel indicated smoke on the second and third floors. Firefighters and Evans inspected the building and found no signs of smoke or fire.

Firefighters and school officials don't believe lightning struck the S.E. Gross Middle School itself. Kuzniewski and Evans said there were no scorch marks or exterior damage to the building. None of the rooftop mechanical units was damaged and a communications tower housing the radio transmitters on the roof also didn't appear to have been hit.

"We're not sure where it hit, but the staff member in the building heard an incredible sound, and as soon as it hit the fire alarms at S.E. Gross went off,' Kuzniewski said.

The building never lost power, said Kuzniewski, and all the mechanical systems continued to function. 

According to Evans, most of the damage to electrical systems was concentrated in the newly renovated east wing of the school. Still not functioning as of late last week was the new elevator installed in that wing.

The elevator's power panel was completely fried as a result of the lightning strike, knocking it out of commission.

Evans initially worried that the new computer and electrical equipment in the school's brand new STEM lab on the third floor of the east wing might have been affected. Evans had a technology consultant come to the school on Sept. 30 to check out the equipment, which appeared unscathed.

"Definitely that was a huge concern, but that stuff was not impacted," Evans said.

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