PORTLAND-- Just days before the school year begins, fire destroyed a classroom at a Portland elementary school. Chapman Elementary had no working sprinklers, and it's one of almost two dozen in the district that don't.
Students at Chapman will go without two things for the start of their school year. First, a classroom where a fire started early Wednesday morning.
"Just standing outside watching the flames, it was scary you know," said fifth-grade teacher Kevin Bush.
Bush pulled the alarm around 6 a.m. Crews were already on their way, alerted by the school's automatic smoke alarm.
“This is an issue that I don't think a lot of people are aware of. Every time I tell friends they seem surprised about this one,” said Lt. Rich Chatman of Portland Fire & Rescue.
They are surprised about the second thing students will be without, a sprinkler system. In fact, only eight schools in the district have full sprinkler systems. Fifty four have partial sprinklers and 23, including Chapman, have none.
“A sprinkler system in a school is just one layer of protection and right now, everyone knows the school district doesn’t have an endless budget,” said Christine Miles with Portland Public Schools.
Cost is the same reason Evergreen School District has three schools without working sprinklers. The 1950's buildings were grandfathered in and too expensive to retrofit.
“We tried to pass a bond back in 2008 and two of those buildings would have been replaced and they failed,” added district safety manager Scott Deutsch.
At the Beaverton School District, all 51 schools had at least partial sprinklers.
But every school in every district has working smoke alarms, and fire officials said that's what matters most.
Investigators believe oily rags in a classroom trash can started the Chapman fire, School will begin as planned with students using the art room instead.