Frozen, burst pipes plague area schools

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

When a deep freeze settled into the Ohio Valley last week, schools around the Archdiocese of Louisville were cancelled Monday and Tuesday. And even after the cold spell ended, a dozen parishes and schools reported problems with burst water pipes, causing some schools to miss additional days.

Worst hit was St. Joseph School in Bardstown, Ky., where pipes in its library sprang 19 to 20 leaks and ruined about 2,000 books. Water from the second-story space flowed down to the first floor and out the school’s front doors.

“It was like a waterfall of ice,” said principal Michael Bickett. “It was pretty amazing. People were just stunned at what they were seeing. ”

Bickett refers to the event as “our big adventure.”

The school was closed for the remainder of last week and reopened again on Monday, Jan. 13. The library, which was five years old, remained closed this week, though, and books for kindergarten and first-graders must be replaced, Bickett said.

“There’s no way we’d be in business if I hadn’t had 12 or 15 teachers who came in at different times to clean up books, clean up garbage,” he said. “I was proud of our teachers who didn’t expect anything in return. They just wanted to see the school up and running and get their beautiful library back.”

Bickett also credited the school’s opening to a school parent, Chuck Russman, who responded to the disaster immediately with the resources of Abatement Solutions, the company where he works.

“He was in the building within a half an hour,” he said. “Within a few hours we had his team in there starting cleanup.”

The source of the problem is still a mystery, Bickett added.

“The heat was on. Somehow or other cold air got into our building and it was competing with our heating system,” he said. “That’s the next stage of our investigation to see how it got in there. Something had to happen to allow that 15 below air temperature to get into the building.”

In addition to St. Joseph, St. Nicholas Academy also was closed most of last week and reopened Monday. Leisa Schulz, superintendant of Catholic schools, said the school did not experience extensive damage, though.

A leak in its fire sprinkler system was discovered during the regular school day last Wednesday, Jan. 8, the first day the students had attended since the Christmas holiday began. Students were evacuated to the church on campus, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and then dismissed early. After the repair was made, the school needed inspectors to sign-off on its safety, Schulz said.

St. Athanasius School called off classes early Wednesday morning after a pipe in the ceiling of the main office began to leak.

“They had water damage in the main office and the cafeteria and in one of the classrooms,” said Schulz, who said the water soaked the carpet, ceiling and computers.

Students returned to school the next day.

“They’ve relocated the main office (to a computer lab) until everything can get dried out” and the carpet and ceiling can be replaced in the main office, Schulz said.

St. Martha School students missed Wednedsay, too, while two water-logged classrooms were cleaned, Schulz said.

Make-up days at the schools that missed additional days last week will be determined by each school, she added.

Several parishes also reported burst water pipes to Catholic Mutual, the insurance company for Archdiocese of Louisville parishes. Among them were St. Charles Church in St. Mary, Ky.; St. Pius X Church; St. Francis of Assisi Church in St. Francis, Ky.; St. Helen Church in Glasgow, Ky.; Holy Redeemer Church in Greensburg, Ky.; Holy Name Church and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.

Brad Harruff of Catholic Mutual said he expects losses from the freeze — including problems experienced by both the schools and parishes — to exceed $100,000.

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