Janesville68.1°

Monroe Elementary evacuation goes swimmingly

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
September 23, 2010
— A minor emergency allowed an east-side elementary school to practice its evacuation plan Wednesday.

The emergency was a water main break that cut off water to Monroe Elementary School and flooded Pontiac Drive in front of the school.


Hundreds of Monroe students and staff walked about four blocks to Cargill United Methodist Church’s school, where they set up shop.


City Water Superintendent Katie Karow said the school was informed immediately, workers quickly closed valves to isolate the leak, and school officials soon had kids on the move.


“They’ve got that working very well. I’m very impressed with that,” Karow said.


Police protected students at intersections, and staff from the district’s central office helped with the transition at Cargill.


By all accounts, the operation was a success, which bodes well if the school should ever face a more serious threat.


“For a very unusual situation, they’ve made it appear seamless,” said Steve Sperry, the district’s director of human and administrative services, who was one of the helpers.


“The staff and (Principal) Lori Burns are just working hand-in-hand, and the kids are doing their instruction,” Sperry said. “The church (staff) are just helping out. They’ve moved furniture, set tables, chairs. It’s pretty impressive.”


Monroe had a place to go because of planning that goes back to the late 1990s. The district got a grant two years ago to make improvements, resulting in a Building Emergency Evacuation Plan, or BERP, said district spokeswoman Sheryl Miller.


Monroe’s Building Response Team—BuRT—made the required visit to Cargill at the beginning of the year to familiarize themselves, Miller said.


All district schools have similar plans and sites where they can take refuge, Miller said.


Kids carried their bag lunches, and the district’s food service delivered meals to Cargill. Buses and parents were told they could pick up their children as usual at the end of the day, but at Cargill.


Miller noted that the lack of water raised health concerns—think bathrooms, lunches and drinking water—that led to the evacuation.


Houses across the street from the school also were without water for the day. Nearby Marshall Middle School was not affected. Karow said residents on the northeast side may have lost pressure or had low pressure for a time.


The church did expose children to religious symbols.


“At a time of emergency, the first thing is to get kids to a place that is safe,” Miller said when asked about the church-state issue.


Parents all know ahead of time where their school’s evacuation site is because it’s in the parent handbook, Miller said, but school officials are willing to discuss concerns if parents have them.


A water main break in the same general area occurred in January 2006, but school was not in session that day.



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