On Feb. 18, 2010, a spontaneous combustion occurred at South Bay Elementary School in the West Babylon (N.Y.) Union Free School District while the gym floor was being refinished on the final day of the school’s winter vacation. Although no one was injured, the entire school was set aflame and left nothing for the 300 students expected to return the following day. Though considered to be the worst school fire in the greater New York region, South Bay was rebuilt in less than two years, opening this past fall, and students only missed one day of school due to the fire.
The district’s superintendent of five years, Anthony Cacciola, formerly served as the district’s facilities and grounds superintendent of its seven schools. Students were immediately transferred to a neighboring parochial school that had been empty. The district opted to forgo the traditional exchanging of insurance checks and municipal bidding wars and instead allowed the insurance company, the New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal, to handle the reconstruction. By the summer, construction had begun on the school.
“The footprint of the building remained the same,” says Cacciola. “The major difference was that the insurance company agreed to update the roof to a steel frame instead of a wood roof.” Cacciola credits his team’s working together for the school’s quick recovery. “It was the best of a very terrible situation.”
The design and construction team for the reconstruction included architect, interior designer and MEP engineer BBS Architects, Landscape Architects and Engineers; general contractor Belfor Property Restoration; and structural engineer Thomas D. Reilly, P.E.