Blaze at junior high ‘was set’

Students look at fire damage (Bill Ryserson Photo)

Seven hundred fifty pupils from Norwood South Junior High School, which was gutted by a $2 million general alarm fire Saturday night, will start double sessions with the pupils at North Junior High later this week.

Norwood Fire Chief Irving J. Dobson said yesterday, after a preliminary investigation: “The fire was definitely set.” He said separate fires erupted almost at once in three locations, the principal’s office, room 203 on the second floor and a math room on the third floor.

The fire continued to smolder last night, as firemen poured thousands of gallons of water into the ruins of the 51-year-old four-story, brick building.

While pupils from the school were getting a brief vacation, Norwood municipal officials started facing the task of planning for the construction of another junior high school.

The $3 million North Junior High, which all Norwood junior high pupils will now attend, was completed only a year ago. Prior to its completion, the town had to hold double session at the crowded South school.

“It could have been a lot worse,” said Chief Dobson. “We were damn lucky we were able to save at least part of the building.” He said the first alarm was turned in at 7:45, but it wasn’t until early yesterday morning that the blaze was brought under control.

Two firemen from Norwood were injured in battling the blaze. Thomas Collins of 182 Sunny Side road was held for observation at Norwood Hospital after suffering what was apparently a heart attack. Pvt. William Gorman broke an ankle in a fall inside the school.

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Fire companies from 16 communities as far away as Boston and Plainville aided the Norwood department.

School committeeman Dr. Thomas Couch made the announcement about classes yesterday, after a meeting between selectmen, school department personnel and school committee members.

He said the school committee had no choice but to hold double sessions. Students now attending North Junior High will attend school in the morning, and students from the burned-out South Junior High will attend classes from noon to 5 p.m.

Dr. Couch said arrangements would be made to transport students by bus to North Junior High School.

There will be no classes today for South Junior High School pupils.

Dr. Couch said that until the double session program is worked out, announcements will be made on a day-to-day basis on whether there will be school.

He estimated damage to be more than $2 million to the contents and the building. There is insurance on the facility, but officials declined to say how much.

“The fire is an awful setback to the children’s education,” said school committeeman William Egan. “I am very upset to say the least. The only possible solution is the double session.”

All day yesterday and well into the night scores of Norwood residents looked at the remains of South Junior High School.

“I just don’t believe it,” said Nancy O’Connor, a French teacher at the school. “Everything is ruined, just unbelievable.” Craig Caldwell, a music teacher at South Junior High, said (“It will hurt all the kids. Now they will have to attend double sessions at another school. It is just a shame.”

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Norwood junior high pupils attended double sessions at the South school until 1st February when construction was completed on the North Junior High.

Garrete Lee, 13, of 151 Winslow av., an eighth-grader at South, said: “At first I thought it was funny, but then I started to feel sick. This school was real homey. I don’t want to go on double sessions.”
Another eighth-grader at the school, Steven Flagg of 49 Oak st., said: “I am really upset. The kids always joke about the school burning up, but no one ever wanted it to. Even the tropical fish were killed.”

Mrs. Francis Haggerty of 31 Roxanne st- said: “Now I suppose our tax rate will increase. It just has to. I still can’t believe it though.”

As icicles started to form on the stairwells inside the structure, investigators continued to probe the debris- looking for clues.

School department officials said the fire was the first in the town’s history in a public school building.

25 Jan 1971, Mon The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts)

By George Regan Jr. Globe Correspondent