Christian school reopens after code issues

Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010

The school year didn't quite start off as planned at Grace Lutheran School this past August, but after nearly six months of making due in two improvised classrooms, students and staff moved back into their old home on Ciechanski Road in Kalifonsky Beach on Monday.

Photo Courtesy Of Alice Maxie
Photo Courtesy Of Alice Maxie
Mike Plaster, left, holds a sign that was posted on the entryway of Grace Lutheran School by the Department of Public Safety in mid-August 2009, warning that the building, located on Ciechanski Road in Kalifonsky Beach, was unsafe to occupy because it lacked a fire suppression system. Plaster, and Fred Werth, right, were among a number of others who took part in a Sunday rededication ceremony at the school after the building was OK'd by state officials to again serve its students.

Department of Public Safety officials barred the kindergarten through eighth-grade private Christian school from holding classes in their building last fall because it lacked a fire suppression system.

The issue goes back to the summer of 2007, when the school, which formed in 2001, took on an expansion project, adding two new classrooms to their already existing structure.

School officials said that though the expansion was completed in August of '07, the state modified the fire codes, requiring sprinkler systems to be installed in public educational facilities built after September 2007.

That meant the school would not only have to have sprinklers in the addition, but the older part of the building as well.

The school said that because of a delay of paperwork, the fire marshal's office enforced the new code.

The state's view is different.

A Public Safety official said in an interview late August 2009 that fire suppression systems have been required in all educational facilities constructed after 1997, and that a plan review was needed for approval before construction even began, but nothing was provided until construction was close to finished.

Grace Lutheran was allowed to operate in the building until the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year without the suppression system, after which they needed to have one installed or they would no longer be permitted to hold courses in the building.

The school sought quotes for installing a sprinkler system and found them to range between $130,000 and $150,000, according to Kevin Austin, Chairman of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Lacking funds, the school, which has an enrollment of 27 students, was forced to find a new location. Despite several offers from other local religious institutions, Austin said they couldn't find a suitable location that met safety codes in which to hold classes and turned inward.

"We renovated our pastor's garage and the school minister's garage and called them our expanded campus," Austin said.

To afford the sprinkler system, the school looked Outside for help.

"The first thing we did was a lot of praying, then we let it be known what our plight was to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod," Austin said.

They got the response they were looking for with $120,000 in donations coming from Outside. Austin said $100,000 of that came from a single individual.

They were able to raise an additional $20,000 through in-state donations, making it possible to afford a $140,000 sprinkler system.

Austin said the building was OK'd by the state on Friday and they began to move back in Saturday.

Dante Petri can be reached at

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