School board approves emergency repairs for Harvest Park library

Staff: Roof, infrastructure significantly impacted by fire last week

Crews continue initial work on the Harvest Park Middle School library, which sustained heavy damage in a late-night fire July 3. (Photo by Jeremy Walsh)

The Pleasanton school board unanimously approved a resolution allowing for emergency corrective repair at Harvest Park Middle School, at a special meeting Friday night set to address a fire that broke out in the school’s library days earlier.

The resolution allows Pleasanton Unified to avoid the usual public bidding process, in light of the serious extent of damage inflicted and the fast-approaching date of the first day of school.

“It is allowable by public contract code, if a Board of Trustees passes a resolution that is then approved by the county Office of Education, that allows the district to move forward with immediately needed repairs and restoration on something that has been damaged in an emergency,” said Myla Grasso, director of maintenance, operations and technology for the district, who presented the resolution at the 10-minute-long meeting on Friday.

“In this case, it’s things like extracting water from the carpet, getting the library books out and cleaned. Possibly installing portables to set up a temporary library.”

The vote was 4-0, with Trustee Jamie Yee Hintzke absent. Costs, which haven't been determined yet, will be completely covered by insurance, and because of this, Grasso said, the insurance company will have a vested interest in making sure costs are reasonable.

The fire broke out in the library late at night on July 3 and caused significant damage from flames, heat, water, smoke and soot, according to district staff.

Firefighters from the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department and Alameda County Fire Department responded to the incident that Tuesday night. When they arrived on-scene a little after 10:30 p.m., the library at the center of the campus was on fire, according to deputy fire chief Joe Testa.

After extending the fire hoses about 250 feet to reach the flames, firefighters were able to bring the fire under control by 11:01 p.m., Testa said. The cause is still somewhat hazy, though fire and police investigators concluded that it most likely started in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

“We worked with the Police Dept. on the investigation,” Testa said. “There was no indication of arson, fireworks or other human involvement. This fire appeared to have started in HVAC mechanical equipment, but beyond that we could not specify.”

Though the fire's cause is still unclear, it should be noted that HVAC upgrades at schools throughout the district (with the exception of Valley View Elementary, Village High School and the district office) were listed on the Measure I1 Facilities Master Plan approved at the June 26 school board meeting.

The damage was confined to one building. “Unfortunately the roof is very impacted,” including the roof’s supports, Grasso said. Though walls are largely intact, it’s not yet clear what will happen to them once the roof is removed, as will need to happen.

Fortunately, computers were not in the area where water first came, so most of those remain intact, Grasso said. Infrastructure, though, was all impacted -- which affects the school’s operations too.

“The cabling ran through (the library),” Grasso said. “So right now, in-house we’re in the process of basically pulling that back to the main office.”

Fire and burglar alarms are back up, and they’re working on phones, she added. The intercom and bells were “pretty damaged” but they have parts on order for those. Reinstalling internet is expected to be the lengthiest infrastructure-related task, Grasso said, but as a back-up plan they could install some wireless hotspots on campus if need be.

“Hopefully, by the start of school, most of that should be in place,” she said.

In the meantime, staff are looking into putting four portables -- a “four-wide structure” -- in the library’s place, though the temporary facility won’t be able to hold the entire books collection.

An exact figure hasn’t yet been released, but repair costs are expected to exceed $45,000 -- state law dictates that construction contracts over this amount be publicly bid.

However, staff says, state law also allows the board to make a contract without soliciting bids, in the case of “an emergency where any repairs, alterations, work, or improvement is necessary to any facility of a public school to permit the continuance of existing school classes, or to avoid danger to life or property.”

The first day of school is Aug. 13, which makes the repair needs all the more urgent, staff says.

Trustees and staff thanked first responders, Grasso and the city for all their support.

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