Covering Chicago's Back-to-School Season

Parents Fuming About CPS School Without Power

Parents point to recent public school closures as the reason behind the fire

By Mary Ann Ahern
|  Tuesday, Aug 27, 2013  |  Updated 8:44 PM CDT
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Chicago Public Schools children had to be evacuated on the second day of school after a transformer exploded outside Mollison Elementary School, knocking out power to the building on a near-record hot day. Mary Ann Ahern reports.

Chicago Public Schools children had to be evacuated on the second day of school after a transformer exploded outside Mollison Elementary School, knocking out power to the building on a near-record hot day. Mary Ann Ahern reports.

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Parents Fuming About CPS School Without Power

A transformer explosion knocked out power to a Chicago public school and parents blame the incident on the school board's decision to close 50 schools.

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Chicago Public Schools children had to be evacuated on the second day of school after a transformer exploded outside Mollison Elementary School, knocking out power to the building on a near-record hot day.

The transformer caught fire outside the school around 11 a.m. in the 4400 block of South King Drive, fire officials said. Mollison's 450 students evacuated the building for a short time before they returned to classrooms.

CPS determined the school was too hot for the children to stay, and robo-calls were made to parents. Temperatures were expected to reach the mid-90s in the Chicago area with a heat index reaching 100 degrees.

Children who weren't picked up were bused to King High School, where CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said they will "receive lunch and be placed into a safe and comfortable environment with their teachers."

No injuries were reported, but some parents were furious, pointing to recent public school closures as the reason behind the fire.

"It's because they're still doing construction in the building," said Jeanette Taylor, president of the Local School Council at Mollison. "They closed Overton back in June. This building should have been ready. That's the problem."

Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd) said CPS was supposed to tell ComEd it added air conditioners so the utility could install a higher-performing transformer to handle the increased load of needed power.

"This did not happen," Dowell said.

But a spokeswoman for Exelon, ComEd's parent company, said an exact cause for the outage was still under investigation as of 2 p.m.

"It is premature to report a cause for the outage," Judith Rader said in an email.

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said the power company determined the transformer won't be a quick fix and the school will be without power all night.

Carroll said ComEd is working to determine the cause of the fire and fix the transformer. A generator was brought to the school to ensure power for class on Wednesday.

"When temperatures rise, it is not uncommon for transformers to malfunction," she said.

Taylor said the incident confirms parents' concerns about the Chicago school board deciding to close 50 schools in the spring. Some schools weren't ready for the influx of new students.

"We're still trying to finish this building to put the other kids from the closed schools in," Taylor said, "so it's on CPS. This is exactly what parents were upset about. You're closing 50 schools, and they have not figured this out."

Another mother who picked up her son said she appreciated the call and confirmed the school without power was no place for kids.

"It's very hot in there," Brandy Stricklin said. "It's very, very hot in there."

Students were to be returned to Mollison in time for the school's 3:45 p.m. dismissal time.

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