PARIS — A ventilator malfunction in the B Wing of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School led to frozen pipes bursting over the weekend, flooding more than a dozen classrooms on the second and first floors, Superintendent Rick Colpitts told directors Monday night.

Part of OHCHS’ new HVAC system malfunctioned and froze over the weekend, leading to pipes bursting and damaging more than a dozen rooms in the school’s B Wing. This image showed the project in process last August. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

One room had new technology equipment stored.

“I’d like to thank the Paris, Norway and Oxford Fire Departments that spent as much as three hours (Sunday) afternoon helping to clean up, as well as our custodians who were there in force trying to clean things up,” he said. “There are 20 to 30 dehumidifiers and fans running now. Sheetrock will have to be removed a couple of feet up from the floor and mold will make the rooms uninhabitable for a period of time.”

Colpitts said high school administrators will meet Tuesday to determine how to move staff to other rooms or possibly other buildings while cleanup and repairs are done.

Representatives of Siemens, which contracted with the district to replace the high school heating and refrigeration system in 2020, were at the school Monday trying to determine where the failure happened, as were insurance investigators. The school is mostly empty this week, as staff shortages due to COVID-19 quarantines made it necessary to switch to remote learning.

“At this point we don’t know how it happened but the assumption is that it was a failure in equipment,” Colpitts said. “The heat has been set at 68 degrees day and night, seven days a week during COVID. Something likely malfunctioned, leading to enough exterior air to enter to freeze it.”

In his administrative report, Colpitts told the board that the Maine Principals’ Association has adjusted its plan for winter athletics. Superintendents in counties designated moderate risk for spread of the new coronavirus met following the news and agreed to protocols that would allow winter sports to begin after Feb. 8 for an abbreviated season. Teams will be strictly monitored for open COVID-19 cases. Any with infected players or coaches will not be allowed to play other teams.

Superintendents and athletic directors will meet weekly to maintain strong lines of communication with other districts and the playing season will be extended if necessary. The guidelines will change if a county’s designation changes to low risk.

Colpitts also advised the board that SAD 17’s medical director, Dr. Kate Hurlihy of Western Maine Health, and head nurse Beth Gallagher co-hosted a presentation for staff about anticipated COVID-19 vaccinations. About 80% of district employees have indicated they wish to receive the vaccine when it becomes available. A second session for the general public will be scheduled in the near future.

In other business, directors approved changing the date of the high school graduation from June 12 to 13. It will allow more flexibility to hold the ceremony if COVID-19 restrictions are still in place at that time. They also approved a request from high school administrators to waive seniors’ Community Service requirement for graduation.

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