It was February 27, 2014 when a fire ripped into Mitchell Middle School in Racine, WI, racing through the attached elementary school and into the middle school’s multi-purpose room. After the blaze was contained and the building was secured, Jim Perencevic, Paul Davis Emergency Response Coordinator, and local Paul Davis offices boarded it up and conducted a thorough inspection to determine the next steps in terms of restoring it to a pre-loss condition.

Both the middle and elementary schools were immediately uninhabitable due to smoke, soot and water damage, which permeated the 217,000-square-foot, two-story structure. Soot caked most surfaces with a smoky odor throughout the building. An inch of standing water resided in many first-floor offices and classrooms.

The fire was intense, causing the roof to collapse in some parts of the building and destruction throughout most of the school. When the roof collapsed in the multi-purpose room, the remaining areas of interior and exterior walls also caved in.

There was one other intangible regarding this large loss project – it occurred in the middle of the school year. In order to get teachers and students back to class, a March deadline was set, giving restoration crews about two weeks to complete the project – an ambitious deadline, to say the least.

Demolition crews from Milwaukee-based Paul Davis National and Paul Davis Restoration and Remodeling of Southeast Wisconsin were permitted to be on-site with preliminary clean-up and stabilization on the night of the fire. Large scale work then commenced four days after the fire.

Crews worked around the clock, as approximately 440 technicians and professionals from the local Paul Davis offices and the community joined together to return the property to a pre-loss condition. The franchise network sent multiple tractor trailers to the school to support the hundreds of crew members to ensure that the project could be finished as quickly as possible.

Crews painstakingly cleaned up smoke and soot from virtually every space in the middle school along with sanitizing and cleaning contents while emptying 1,200 individual student lockers with items bagged and tagged for identification. Hundreds of pounds of hard and soft goods were packed up, identified and cleaned and laundered at Paul Davis’ contents facility in Milwaukee. To manage the process, crew members worked with teachers and labeled materials in the classrooms, designating some items to be saved and some to be discarded. Crews took pictures of rooms and contents so that after cleaning and sanitizing the items could be placed back in the spaces exactly as they were found. With cleaning most of the students’ lockers and personal contents, workers had to first cover the lockers in plastic and utilized special hydroxyl generators to eliminate fire and smoke odors. The items were replaced in the lockers for students when they returned to school. Asbestos abatement and cleanup and sanitizing of the school cafeteria were also priorities of the job.

Additionally, restoration crews determined the need for installing temporary drywall in hallways that connected the middle and elementary schools in order to isolate areas that were still damaged to control odor and prevent access.

They replaced tiling affected by water damage and utilized dozens of air movers that circulated more than 2,500 cubic feet of air per minute to help eliminate odors. Crews also waxed the newly installed floors.

The Home Depot stores also assisted with the project - shipping in lumber, equipment and supplies for hours each day to meet the demanding work and days of freezing temperatures.

“We restored the fire alarm system, new ceiling tiles in the middle school, painted the school’s walls and installed new carpeting and floor tiles,” says J. Murphy, Director of Operations, Paul Davis National. “We removed debris, wiped away soot, dusted, vacuumed and cleaned every item in every room, to  name just a few of the immense details about this job.”

During the job, all procedures were completed at the customer’s direction and approvals were reviewed by the middle school staff, school district officials and the insurance carriers. Paul Davis and all other parties worked together to secure the project, develop the scope of work, execute the plan document and the progress and calculated costs. Murphy made sure the process remained fluid and flexible to flow with the customer’s requests, and his key objective was to present suitable options and make informed decisions. 

When it was all said and done, workers didn’t just meet the two-week deadline, but they beat it – by about 12 hours to be exact.

“I believe that attitude is part of what allows us to succeed at projects such as this,” said Neal Lengacher, Paul Davis Senior Project Manager. “I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.”

Although elementary students were temporarily moved to another location, students at Mitchell Middle School returned to class on March 18. They were required to stay in school for an additional 40 minutes per day for the remainder of the school year to make up for lost time in the classroom.

 “These types of losses are unpredictable and the response strategy must be managed with critical and immediate action,” says Murphy. “Paul Davis has a tremendous advantage in this arena due to our extensive experience. Documentation must be delivered in an accurate and timely manner to ensure efficient cost containment. Our primary objective is to operate all loss sites efficiently by establishing in writing its proposed tactics and techniques in advance of implementation.”