Monday, June 30, 2014

(Placer County) Grand jury: More water for Newcastle Elementary

Report faults ‘inaction,’ but officials say issues being addressed
By: Eyragon Eidam, Staff Writer

The Placer County Grand Jury has issued its findings on the fire safety situation at Newcastle Elementary School: The school’s fire hydrant system needs more water capacity.

The report, released as part of a larger packet of findings on multiple issues, describes the problem as less of a student safety concern for students and more of an issue of saving structures and the surrounding area from a potential fire.

The report faults “inaction” on the part of Newcastle Elementary School District in terms of addressing the fire danger to the school, but school and fire officials said the effort to comply with safety requirements has been ongoing and responsive.

The grand jury is a county agency that investigates various operations and departments within county government and Placer County at large, and it issues an annual report with findings and recommendations. This year’s report was made public Thursday.

Kathleen Daugherty, superintendent of the Newcastle School District, said Friday that she had not had an opportunity to review the document, but said she would be issuing the requested response to the grand jury.

Daugherty confirmed the ongoing addition of higher-flow fire hydrants on the campus as well as the upcoming delivery of a 15,000-gallon water storage tank to assist any firefighting efforts the school could face.

“A couple of things happened that made us to redo our plans,” Daugherty said.

The school is currently being outfitted with water hookups to allow better access for firefighters, as well as to boost water delivery capability, according to the school official.

“The students were never at risk here,” Daugherty said.

Mitch Higgins, chief of the Penryn Fire Protection District, said efforts to bring the school into compliance with fire standards had been going well since the district learned of the fire department’s concerns.

“They’re going by what was agreed upon between the school and fire department,” Higgins said.

The district has also approved a contract to remove excess vegetation from the perimeter of school property, according to Higgins.

Bill Monahan, a fourth-generation Newcastle resident and neighbor to the elementary school, the responsiveness of the district left something to be desired when it came to addressing community safety concerns.

“There have been problems for years,” Monahan said.

He said the issues of emergency access and water supply went unrecognized by officials until recently.

“It’s not a safe situation,” Monahan said. “It’s a nightmare traffic-wise, water-wise and brush-wise.”

Both school and fire officials said they’re confident the upgrades to the site will not only be done before the start of the school year, but will be sufficient enough to address any future emergencies that should arise.

As it stands, the project will be in accordance with the recommendations of the grand jury, according to fire and school officials.

The grand jury is requiring responses from the Newcastle Elementary School District Board of Directors, Daugherty and Placer County Office of Education Superintendent Gayle Garbolino-Mojica.

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