Case study: Rockwood, Mo., school district upgrades fire protection systems

Continuous improvement is a vital element of St. Louis' largest public school system, Rockwood School District. The philosophy is illustrated in the district’s education and also in its facilities, which underwent a complete fire protection system upgrade.

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff November 6, 2007

Continuous improvement is a vital element of St. Louis’ largest public school system, Rockwood School District, which has 19 elementary schools, six middle schools, four high schools, and Early Childhood Center, a Center for Creative Learning, and an Individualized Learning Center. The philosophy is illustrated in the district’s education and also in its facilities, said David Blickenstaff, Rockwood School District director of facilities.

Chief among facility improvement is updating the district’s fire-protection systems. “We’ve been switching out all of our old fire-protection systems with replacements, at the rate of two or three systems per year throughout our 30 schools and six auxiliary buildings,” Blickenstaff said. “Our buildings had a variety of different systems and, in the interest of standardization and improved performance, we felt it best to update them in order to better protect our students, faculty, administration, and support staff.”

Several years ago, Rockwood passed a number of important bond issues, one of which involved a comprehensive upgrade of the district’s facilities. This included an extensive HVAC renovation and roofing, as well as updating all of the fire alarm systems and bringing them up to current code. The fire-alarm upgrade was particularly significant, given that the older panels required frequent—and costly—maintenance.

“In the beginning we had every fire alarm panel known to man,” Blickenstaff said. “We decided that a broad-brush retrofit was the best route to take.”

The choice of which system to purchase was an easy one. Years ago, Tech Electronics, which has worked with the Rockwood School District for 15 years, primarily had represented one major fire panel manufacturer. But the fact that these panels were not addressable convinced the company to represent Notifier and become one of the top 5 Notifier dealers in the country.

Tech Electronics has experience designing and installing conventional and analog fire alarm systems and fire protection systems for many applications.

Based on a recommendation from Keith Canova, director of the end user business unit for Tech Electronics, as well as input from in-house electricians, other outside contractors, and the district’s four local fire marshals, Rockwood chose Notifier fire alarm panels and associated signaling devices for the district.

Tech Electronics performed the first few installations, Blickenstaff said. Then the company wrote specs exclusively and the district bid out the installations to keep the process competitive and to receive the best job at the best price. Tech Electronics attended all pre-bid meetings and oversaw the installation process. Canova said that because the high schools are large, it takes as long as a month and a half to install the fire systems. However, because the pre-bid work is performed upfront, the contractor has between early June and the end of August to complete the work, when school is out for the summer.

To date, about 90% of Rockwood’s systems are equipped with Notifier panels. Not only have they been retrofitted into the older facilities, they are automatically specified into all of the new buildings.

“Everything is working smoothly,” Blickenstaff said. “We’re even talking about networking all the buildings in the district together. The bottom line is we now have fire systems that are giving our students and faculty the best possible protection.”

To any other school district looking to upgrade their fire-protection systems, standardization on a trusted technology from a trusted manufacturer and a trusted consultant are key. And that’s the kind of lesson you can’t learn in school.

To learn more about Notifier fire alarm systems, click here .