FIREPROOF SCHOOL BUILDINGS
The evolution of school buildings in the United States within the last two generations has been almost, if not quite, as great as that of the school curriculum. It is a far stretch, yet entirely within the memory of living men, from the log school houses of the middle west to the modern, sanitary, fireproof school houses of reinforced concrete which are now springing up all over the country. In the cast the log school house has entirely disappeared, to be replaced in some communities by that of frame construction or by the nonfireproof school of brick and wood, which was thought to be practically safe from destruction by fire.
On March 4, 1908, however, there was flashed over the telegraph wires to every newspaper in this and other countries the news of a great disaster. In a brick school house situated in Collingwood, Ohio, a suburb of Clevc land, 165 school children lost their lives through the breaking out of a fire during school hours. The entire country was shocked. Action was taken by hundreds of school boards to try and make their schools safer, but in spite of all that could be done the fact remained that the schools were non-fire-proof.
During the first three months of the year 1908 fires occurred in college and university building in nineteen states and one territory. In some of these states two or more fires occurred in this class of buildings. In Canada also had occurred several disastrous school fires during this period. In the same period public school buildings had been on fire in as many as eighteen states. Many of these reported more than one fire.
The fact cannot be questioned that the immediate attention of the parents of school children has been brought to bear upon the safety of their children and the demand has been made that future buildings of this character be made fireproof, as nearly so as modern methods permitted. It is also conceded that proper protection against fire in school buildings can only be had through the use of fireproof materials in the construction thereof. The log school bouse was one of necessity. The pioneer of the middle west and far west was no different from his brethren in the east. One of the first things done after settle nient was made, was to erect both school house and meeting place. These were, of necessity. made of logs, because they oftentimes had to answer the double purpose of school house and block house, to ward off the attacks of marauding Indians.
It was a step—a step upward, however— from the log school house to that of the frame building and another step to that of the brick and wood construction and then to that of the reinforced concrete construction, the only ah solutely fireproof construction known to modern science. It must be remembered, however. that our forefathers were wise in their own generation. While the buildings erected for school purposes were built of frame and logs, highly inflammable, yet each was constructed but one story in height, from which pupils could easily scape when in danger of lire. It is a historical fact that fires in the school houses of early days occurred with almost fiendish regularity, yet the loss of life was as nothing compared to that of the present generation.
As the population grew in certain centres, however, land became more valuable and buildings of this character could no longer be spread over large spaces of ground, the problems of heating and ventilating became important factors, in consequence of which they were of necessity built high in the air, of two and three, sometimes four, stories in height, as are some of the modern buildings. The American Concrete-Steel Company was practically the pioneer in the construction of fireproof schools of reinforced concrete. Immediately following the Collingwood fire this company decided it was unnecessary to house pupils in non-fireproof buildings, and adopted reinforced concrete as the material most suited for fireproof construction for buildings located in the country where the public assistance, sanitary conditions with the permanency of
which would amount to practically nothing. which would be available at a time of fire, would amount to practically nothing. It was sought to construct school buildings which would stand for ages, retaining their the building. Concrete buildings are not new. Such structures have been standing in China for ages, perhaps longer than the Pyramids themselves. Travelers in China recently happened upon a little hamlet whose residences immediately attracted the attention of members of the party. These residences were of concrete, being in almost perfect repair after standing thousands of years, for the history of the little hamlet antedated the time of the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius.
Several members of the party, being of a scientific turn of mind, discovered, to their astonishment, that the houses were built, not only of concrete, but were actually reinforced —the reinforcement being bamboo rods which were in an excellent state of preservation after being imbedded in the concrete for thousands of years. Modern building, however, is a long step forward in that the reinforcement of the concrete used in school construction, as well as in other buildings, is of steel, insuring absolute permanency. To look at this subject from the standpoint of economy, one is astounded to learn that the fire loss in the United State amounts to the stupendous sum of $1,500,000 a day, about half the amount it takes to run the National government. In the opinion of experts this could be reduced 80 per cent, by the use of fireproof material in building. The American people are the most wasteful people on the face of the earth. It is conceded that this great waste is due principally to the predominance of wood construction, as well as defective equipment which follows such construction.
Not one person in a thousand knows, perhaps, that the United States Government owns buildings that cost over $300,000,000, and is spending each year many more millions for new buildings. It may be a surprise, also, to many people to know that not one dollar of insurance is carried on these buildings. Insurance would cost the government half a million dollars annually. But this, owing to the fact that the buildings themselves are fireproof. is saved. It has been learned that the difference in cost between fireproof buildings and inflammable buildings is considerably less than generally supposed, and this fact has been mainly instrumental in discouraging the construction of flimsily constructed buildings, especially school buildings. During the year 1907. statistics proved that the fire losses, in the United States, exceeded the total value of all the gold, silver, copper and petroleum produced in that year, and it was also found that nearly one-half of the value of all new buildings in the United States in annually destroyed by fire being greater than the value of all the real property and improvements in either Maine. West Virginia, North Carolina. North Dakota. South Dakota. Alabama, Louisiana or Montana, in addition to this awful waste of wealth and natural resources, 1,449 persons were killed and 5,654 were injured in fires during the year 1907.
The per-capita loss through fire in the United States during 1907 was $2.51. The percapita loss from this source in the six leading cities of Europe during 1907 was but 33 cents, and comparisons show that if buildingsin the United States were as nearly fireproof as those in Europe, the annual fire loss would be reduced from $456,000,000 to $90,000,000. Here in the United States the ordinary wood construction invites fire, requires extensive repairs and barely lives two generations. The extensive rebuilding made necessary by fires and poor construction adds to the depletion of the forests, to the spring floods and the summer droughts, to the higher cost of food and the greater expense of living. In the last ten years the cost of wood construction has doubled. The cost of reinforced construction has cheapened. So developed has become the use of concrete that barges made from this material carry freight on the Italian and French canals. In fact, so general has become the uses of cement, that it is now used
almost as continually on the farm in some sections as in the construction of buildings elsewhere. The up-to-date farmer builds concrete houses, fence posts, barns, stables, chicken houses—even pig sties. Concrete lining for wells on the farms, concrete walks in gardens, and a number of firms have recently begun the manufacture of concrete mausoleums, containing thousands of crypts.
The lower cost of steel reinforcement, added to the development and cheapening of cement, makes that construction initially as cheap, or nearly so, as the wood construction. The reinforced concrete roof lasts forever, with practically no repairs, while the non-fireproof roof is being continually repaired and replaced. Concrete improves with age. A fireproof structure needs no insurance save on the interior furnishings. This difference alone, together with the cost of maintenance, and the loss from depreciation, would of itself, save the entire cost of the concrete building in two generations, which is the average total life of the wood structure.
But, to return to the subject of fireproof school buildings. One of the most difficult conditions of designing is that of the small school building, containing all the best equipment of plumbing, heating and ventilation, making the building absolutely fireproof and keeping the cost within a reasonable sum. That this can be successfully done has been demonstrated both in Millburn and Irvington, N. J., where in open competition the fireproof buildings were found to be practically less in cost to those of brick and wood construction. The original cost of a concrete school will vary somewhat with the location. When crushed stone, gravel and sand may readily be obtained or where the building is near a railroad, the cost will naturally be less than where materials have to be hauled from a great distance. Such buildings are constructed with fireproof walls of reinforced concrete, fireproof floors, roof, partitions and stairways. The wood work is reduced to a minimum and confined to such items as the doors and trim, guarding thoroughly the safety and health of the pupils.
It sometimes happens that members of school boards, business men, have constructed in their own businesses, reinforced concrete factories and have almost at the same time, gravely discussed at school board meetings the saving perhaps of a few hundreds or thousands of dollars by the building of a non-fire-proof buildings as against one absolutely fireproof. In this connection something might be said in reference to the misleading term of semi-fireproof. No term has done so much damage in the last few years, perhaps, as this which only means the fireproofing of the corridors in schools. The fire at Collingwood started about 10 o’clock in the morning and was supposed to have been caused by an overheated furnace. Of what use would it have been to have had fireproof corridors in this school when the classrooms were of wood? The fire from the basement, in addition to burning away the classrooms and floors and filling the rooms with smoke and flame, leaped out and swept through the corridors. The building itself was completely destroyed, only the outside brick walls remained standing. The floors and roof fell into the interior early in the fire. One of the first school boards to decide for fireproof schools was that of Irvington. N. J., to be followed by Summit. Madison, New Brunswick and Millburn. while at this time, the school board of Bayonne also has under consideration the construction of one of its new schools of reinforced concrete. The school board of Millburn is the latest to select this style of construction for its new school, which is in the Wyoming section along the line of the D., L. & W. railroad. The one essential feature of these fireproof schools is that the materials used in the construction are non-inflammable. A panic from fire is impossible. The life of the child is safe. The pupils can not be. as were the children at Collingwood. buried beneath the smouldering ruins of a school house which they were compelled to attend, and they can. under the laws of this country, claim protection otherwise, the flag which floats over the school house belies the interest which a beneficent and loving government has in the lives of the rising generation.