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School fire does little damage at Arsenal Middle School

By Bobby Kerlik
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The roof of a historic Lawrenceville school caught fire Monday, but children are not expected to miss any classes, Pittsburgh Public Schools officials said.

There were no students in Arsenal Middle School at the time because an after-school program had just ended. The remaining staff were evacuated, and no one was injured, Principal Debra Rucki said.

Firefighters had the one-alarm fire — which started about 4:40 p.m. — extinguished within minutes of arrival. Arson investigators ruled the fire accidental.

A Strip District company, Ralph J. Meyer Co., has been doing work on the school’s roof.

Workers had been using torches earlier in the day, and parts of the roof that were smoldering progressed to flames, arson investigators said.

The fire was contained to the roof. It appeared to cause no damage inside the building, except for water seeping into the top floor, Rucki said.

Materials and equipment, including rubber insulation and propane tanks, sent thick plumes of black smoke into the sky, said Pittsburgh fire Battalion Chief Keith Drudy.

“It looked a lot worse than it was,” Drudy said of the fire. “I knew right away when I pulled up and saw the (trash bin). We always have (fire) problems with roofers in general.”

Ralph J. Meyer Co. officials could not be reached for comment.

Worried parents watched firefighters extinguish the flames.

“I’ll be debating to send my kids to school (today),” said April Rocco. “I want to make sure it’s OK.”

District spokeswoman Lynne Turnquist said there will be school today.

Under the right-sizing plan adopted by the school board on Feb. 28, Arsenal, located at Butler and 40th streets, will be converted to an elementary school this fall.

The school is named for the old Allegheny Arsenal, which made armaments during the Civil War. The school, built in 1931, occupies part of the site where the munitions factory once stood. An addition was built in 1939.

The school was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. It was designated a historic landmark by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation on Nov. 30, 1999, and on Dec. 17 of that year, it was designated a historic structure by the city of Pittsburgh.

Bobby Kerlik can be reached at

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review

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