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Fire fears snuff longtime Hadley school traditions

Each class has traditionally decorated a hall with a theme for spirit week and judges have voted on which showed the most spirit. Among the themes for this year was the senior class’ rendition of “Alice in Wonderland.” The students filled the hall with paper decorations and streamers that evoked the book.

But Michael Spanknebel, the town’s full-time fire captain, and Building Commissioner Timothy Neyhart said the tradition is a dangerous violation of fire regulations. They said they first learned of the practice this year.

“The concern is the numerous fire regulations that it was in violation of,” said Spanknebel.

School Committee members accepted the need to curtail the decorations. Members pointed out that students also traditionally decorate halls during senior week, and must be told they no longer can.

School Committee member Thomas Waskiewicz, who graduated from Hopkins in 1972, said that students have been decorating halls since he was a student.

“It’s gone on for decades,” said Waskiewicz. “We did this when the lobby was the old lobby. We had our decorations covering pretty much half that lobby, so I don’t know how people would ever have gotten out.”

This year’s decorations were flagged after Neyhart and Spanknebel saw them in person when a fire alarm went off due to a power loss in the early morning near the end of spirit week.

“They found these tripping over them in the dark, trying to turn off the alarms,” said Donna Moyer, the interim superintendent. “It really is a dangerous situation.”

Spanknebel said the Fire Department plans to create a permit process for the schools, along with other municipal offices, that wish to decorate halls. The policy will be modeled after one the University of Massachusetts Amherst uses.

Neyhart and Spanknebel also requested that the town’s schools provide notice of large events they plan on holding, which they said has not been done in the past. They said they are particularly concerned about fire safety at Hopkins Academy because the school does not have a sprinkler system, which is unusual.

Still, Moyer and School Committee members were confident students would find other ways of celebrating spirit week.

Moyer said students knew this was coming and are already coming up with fresh ideas for showing school spirit.

Hopkins Academy has already seen traditions come and go. Waskiewicz recalled that the year he graduated students celebrated senior week by building a pyramid of beer cans in the hall.

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