Wednesday was a short-lived first day back for students at Iroquois Community School in Des Plaines following winter break and two additional off days because of cold weather.
A half-hour into the school day, a sprinkler system pipe burst in the school's front vestibule entrance, flooding hallways and forcing school officials to cancel classes for the rest of the day.
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Students were moved to the Des Plaines Park District Leisure Center, located directly behind the school, and school officials asked parents to come pick up their children.
Later in the day, school officials decided to call off classes for Thursday as a safety precaution, while a cleanup and restoration efforts continue. They hadn't yet determined whether school would be in session Friday.
Des Plaines School District 62 officials attributed the pipe breach to the cold temperatures, which they say caused the pipe to freeze, reconfigure and expand. But they believe it's an isolated incident.
School office staff who work near the front entrance reported that they heard a hissing noise about 8:30 a.m., and soon after saw ceiling tiles drop and water pour out in the nearby vestibule, according to Mindy Ward, District 62's director of community relations.
No students or staff were in the area where the pipe burst, she said.
Crews worked throughout the day to assess and repair the damage, and remove water that had collected on carpeting and floor tiles. Insurance adjusters were brought in to determine exactly how costly the damages were, officials said.
"Even with teachers and students not being here on Monday and Tuesday, all of the maintenance individuals for the district have been here and on site, plowing, cleaning sidewalks, and preparing the school for back to school ... They were inside and out," Ward said. "There were no indications this was going to happen. Everyone was very, very surprised."
Ward said maintenance staff would check sprinkler systems at other district schools to make sure there aren't similar problems elsewhere.
Iroquois school, located at 1836 Touhy Ave., is District 62's school of choice, drawing students from all across the district in grades K-8. The building was constructed in 1970 as a middle school, but was converted to a community school in 1997. In 2012, the building underwent renovations as part of a $105 million districtwide facility improvement project.
The park district's Leisure Center at 2222 Birch St. is considered Iroquois' go-to destination in the event of an emergency, such as Wednesday's incident. Parents and guardians were alerted to the pipe burst via the district's Connect 5 messaging system, which sends alerts via email, phone and text. They were asked to pick up their children from the center, providing proper identification when they arrived in order to sign their children out.
Iroquois operates on a year-round school calendar, which means students go to school the same number of days as others in District 62, but their winter break is longer. When students arrived at school Wednesday morning, it was their first day back since Dec. 14, following a three-week break and two more districtwide off days due to frigid temperatures.
"The parents, like the children, were ready to go back to school," Ward said.
Because of the conditions, students and parents were not allowed to enter the school, but school staff were able to retrieve personal belongings and school materials, officials said.