Call to fit sprinklers in schools

The Ministry of Education is being urged to put sprinkler systems in all schools after a suspected arson destroyed four classrooms and a library on the Kapiti Coast.

The fire gutted a Paraparaumu School block on Sunday night. All its old photos and archives went up in flames just as it was planning a 125th anniversary in November.

Three teenage girls have been arrested in relation to the fire, which is believed to have been started in a rubbish bin next to the building.

Retired New Zealand Fire Service national fire safety director Kevin Henderson said a sprinkler system would have saved the building.

"Even as arson, one or two [sprinkler] heads would have gone off and done the job. The tragedy is that it could have only been a minor incident. We will carry on losing schools and lives until the message gets through."

Sprinklers cost 3 per cent of a total building cost, he said, but there was a gap between building designers and senior government about appreciating their value.

Paraparaumu School principal Steven Caldwell said there were smoke detectors in the gutted block, but no sprinkler system.

"There is a case to be made for the Ministry of Education to fit and retrofit all schools with sprinkler systems.

"It may not have stopped our fire.

"We put our funding into educational resources . . . we are told how to spend our money. Why not make a blanket policy that all schools have sprinkler systems?"

An arson attack at Kena Kena School in Paraparaumu in 2007 caused $87,000 of damage.

Principal Bruce McDonald said it considered installing a sprinkler system afterwards, but it was too expensive for the school's five-year property budget provided by the government.

Fire Service senior fire risk management officer Peter Fox said the service wanted the Government to make sprinkler systems compulsory in all schools, industrial and residential buildings.

"There would be a massive reduction in insurance costs, loss of life and property."

Ministry head of education infrastructure service Kim Shannon said it encouraged schools to install sprinkler systems, and provided boards of trustees with property funding.

"We understand that the cost of retrofitting sprinklers to all schools can be expensive, so we have a fire alarm upgrade programme which systematically replaces older systems, also developed with the help of the New Zealand Fire Service. We pay the annual connection charge for these schools."



Principal Steven Caldwell is hopeful Paraparaumu School can reopen for its 160 pupils next week, thanks to "overwhelming" community support.

Neighbouring St Patrick's School has offered to accommodate some of the classes and Caldwell said they would open as a split campus on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Education would install relocatable classrooms at Paraparaumu School during the holidays, in about six weeks, to get the entire school up and running from the Ruapehu St site.

Offers of help and support from the local community and all over the Wellington region had been overwhelming, Caldwell said. 

The Dominion Post