Warwick Community School removes displays of student work to comply with fire codes

  • Warwick Community School Recorder file photo

Recorder Staff
Thursday, December 21, 2017

WARWICK — There’s something different about the Warwick Community School lately. There’s no student artwork displayed on the walls.

According to Principal Elizabeth Musgrave, following a visit from Compliance Officer John Wood III from the Springfield division of the Department of Fire Services, the school removed its bulletin board decorations.

Jim DeSimone, who is filling in as the Department of Fire Services’ public information officer, explained the paper on the bulletin boards must be fire-retardant, or the bulletin boards must be enclosed by glass or polycarbonate material.

Every year, Warwick Fire Chief Ron Gates visits the school for an inspection, Musgrave said, so she understood there were limits on how much paper could be hung up. For example, DeSimone said the classroom walls cannot be covered with regular paper on more than 20 percent of the wall space. However, Musgrave said the regulations relating to bulletin boards were unheard of to her.

“This year, it was much stricter,” she said. “There were far more guidelines that pushed against our mission as a welcoming space for children and families.”

DeSimone said that while the State Fire Marshal’s Office doesn’t do independent school inspections, its staff are available to support local fire departments in understanding regulations and bringing schools into compliance.

“He walked through with me and pointed out what (the school) needed to do,” Gates said, noting how new codes this year have complicated understandings of fire safety.

Musgrave was concerned about the extra expense of using fire-retardant paper given already tight budgets.

“That’s costly for them,” Gates agreed of the fire-retardant paper or glass enclosures. “But it’s for the safety of the kids.”

However, the bulletin boards were only the first corrective measure. The school also removed rocking chairs and a bookcase from the foyer, Musgrave said.

“I do understand their point, that in an emergency that somehow they’d be blocking the hallway,” she explained.

Gates said items in the hallways, like the rocking chairs and bookcase, were problems he found in prior years’ inspections as well.

Musgrave said furniture that was not labeled as fire-retardant was removed as well, with Gates explaining that flammable material is forbidden within five feet of a doorway. Decorated wooden nametags on the students’ lockers and decorations on the lower halves of the windows were also taken down, Musgrave said, though the school is fully covered by a sprkinler system. Musgrave said the decorations were an attempt to creatively cover internal glass, which she said State Police expect to be covered in the event of lockdowns.

“Schools are really caught in the middle,” she said.

Going forward

Musgrave said Gates is working with the compliance officer to help the school find a solution to balance physical safety and making learning fun for children, with Gates suspecting exceptions might be made for displays that aren’t permanent.

“It’s one thing to say ‘Take all of this down,’” Musgrave said. “It’s another thing to say ‘Come up with a solution.’ That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Musgrave said she looks forward to having her students’ work displayed, while also being in compliance, particularly because of what showing the work means for students.

“Displaying children’s work is so important,” she said. “This is their learning. This is what they’re working on. They put so much effort into creating something and then it’s displayed. We all remember how something we made was displayed and how proud we were of it.”