New Fire Protection System

Picture of School from High Profile

By James Barron

The Challenge & Reach Academy in Worcester, Mass. is a public school whose mission is to improve the college and career readiness of a small population of students in grades 7-12 that benefit from additional assistance. The school is in a very tight urban residential neighborhood, with very little off-street parking and surrounded by triple-deckers.

As part of a continuous process of bringing the academy’s 126-year-old building up to code, the addition of the building’s first fire sprinkler system was next in line after the recent installation of a new ADA-accessible elevator. A plan to design and install a new system, along with an electrical system update, was then put in place, but funding issues, along with the Covid-19 lockdown, delayed those plans.

Once those obstacles – and Covid – were finally overcome this past spring, the City of Worcester reached out to Weston & Sampson through the city’s house doctor program to design and provide a new sprinkler system for the 16,500sf, 3-story building. In addition to a very tight budget with no wiggle room for unplanned changes, the new fire protection and accompanying electrical systems had to be installed and operational in an eight-week “fast-track construction” schedule, between the end of the school year in June and the beginning of the new school year at the end of August. Adding to the project’s complexity was that school staff and administration were in the building during the entire project, so their health and safety had to be taken into consideration.

After conducting a survey of the academy building, the team located and designed a dedicated fire protection service room to house the meters and the electrical system and valves.

Because it was the building’s first sprinkler system, the team also had to remove parts of the walls and ceilings to add new pipes

quote from High Profileand sprinklers. As you can imagine with a building of this vintage, asbestos had to be fully abated in all the areas where we were working, adding yet another wrinkle to an already challenging project. This included cutting access holes and patching and painting them once the new equipment was installed and tested. The team also designed and installed a new water line from the street to the building. Finally, the team connected the new sprinkler system to the existing fire alarm system, as required by code.

When all was said and done, by the time school started in August, the city and the building could boast a new fire protection system in accordance with NFPA 13. The team, including the city, were able to get the entire building equipped with a new fire protection system on time and under budget so that the school’s students now have a safe building to attend and can concentrate more on grades rather than their own safety.

James Barron is a construction manager and senior job captain and can be reached at

Published in High Profile, September 2023

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