Electrical failure causes evacuation at east campus

East campus evacuates for the second time this year after electrical line shorts

Anna Ferguson, News Editor

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On Oct. 19, New Trier’s east campus was evacuated just after two PM after an electrical line in the basement shorted, causing smoke and a power outage.

Physical Plant Services (PPS) Facilities Manager, Steve Linke described the accident that caused the evacuation. “An electrical line coming into the basement shorted, this caused the area to fill with enough smoke that it was impossible to immediately figure out where the problem originated,” Linke said.

“It turned out to be a faulty electrical box in the basement,” Winnetka Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky said in an interview with the Winnetka-Glencoe Patch. “We isolated the problem, cleared the smoke and there is no other hazard in the building.”

Assistant Principal Gerry Munley explained how the situation was handled by both the fire department and the Village of Winnetka, “The fire department came and they assessed what was going on. We also had the Village [of Winnetka] come because it involved the village electric. That’s when they cut the power.”

Linke elaborated on the technicalities of how exactly PPS and the Village dealt with the accident. Fans were set up to clear the smoke, and then PPS worked with the Village of Winnetka Electric department. As soon as the Village turned off the power outside the school, PPS then opened the equipment in the basement and determined the problem.

In an email to parents following the incident, Superintendent Linda Yonke affirmed that the accident was not related to the current construction project.

However, according to Munley, the amount of time it took to evacuate the school was greatly affected by the construction. “Because we lost the stairwell [in the back of the school] due to construction, and because most classrooms are in the back, that’s something we’ve been working on with getting people out as quickly as possible.”

This evacuation was the second of this school year, not including the scheduled fire drill on Sept. 15, the next day the fire alarm was set off by dust in the basement of the gym area, according to Munley

“The first [evacuation] took us more than five minutes to get everyone out of the building,” said Munley, “We were out in under five minutes the next day, with the second evacuation.”

The evacuation on Monday was notable due to how long it lasted. “I think this might be the longest evacuation that I remember, and this is my 30th year,” Munley said.

This sentiment was echoed by Linke, “It would have been nice to bring people back into the school sooner, but  when safety is in question, we always err on the side of caution.”

Because of the nature of the accident, not everyone in the school was forced to evacuate. “There are some students and staff who are non-ambulatory,” said Munley. “Because it wasn’t necessarily an immediate emergency, they just sat there and I think their hearing starting to hurt. In retrospect, it might have been better to evacuate them as well.”

Math teacher Bradley Kuklis explained how he felt about the incident interrupting his class and how he feels teachers should respond to such interruptions.

“Things like that happen, so I’m not mad or annoyed. It’s part of a teacher’s responsibility to be resilient in those situations,” Kuklis said.

Student reaction to the evacuation was much more simple. “I was really happy about the evacuation, it got me out of a physics quiz,” senior Brendan Loftus said.

The consensus of faculty and staff seems to be that, although unfortunate, the evacuation went as well as possible under the circumstances. “I think staff and students were great, they took care of themselves,” Munley said.