Power Surge Closes Hilltop

Electrical Panel Replaced; Students Back in Class This Week


Hilltop students gathered in the high school cafeteria for lunch on Sept. 9. Photo by Nam Nguyen

The electrical panel at Hilltop Elementary School started smoking on Thursday, Sept. 8, around 10:15, setting off the fire alarm.  In order to remove the smoking panel, workers shut off the electricity in the entire building.

Students were evacuated to BHS and returned to the high school on Friday to allow time for the panel to be replaced.

Hilltop Principal Rebecca Holthaus explained that the fire department handled the situation once the panel set the fire alarm off.

We evacuated the building, just like in a typical fire drill,” Holthaus said. “[Firefighters] responded and within 5-6 minutes they were on campus.”

“Smoke was coming from the boiler room area,” she added. “It was probably a good 20-25 minutes before they cleared the buildings.”

Holthaus emphasized that no students were in danger.

We already had buses en route to pick [the students] up, and it really went pretty quickly,” Holthaus said. “We were in the [high school] community room a little before 11:00.”

The incident was caused by power surges, which occurred throughout Beachwood last week as electrical demand peaked due to residents coping with high temperatures by turning up their air conditioners.

We already had buses en route to pick [the students] up, and it really went pretty quickly. We were in the [high school] community room a little before 11:00.

— Hilltop Principal Rebecca Holthaus

The old panel was replaced with a newer one over the weekend, and school resumed as usual on Monday morning.

Director of Operations Ken Veon explained that the power outages in the high school were also caused by the power surges; however, they also may have been a result of broken cable lines.

“Everyone had their air conditioners running,” Veon explained. “Compound that with…an issue with one of the lines… They’re doing construction down at Cedar and Richmond…where one of the the lines broke or caught on fire.”

Not all schools in the Cleveland area have cooling systems. According to Cleveland.com, “Temperatures in the high 80s [on Wednesday, Sept. 7] overheated 10 Cleveland schools and forced them to close early.”

Beachwood City Schools have never closed schools due to extreme heat. BHS and BMS are fully air conditioned, while Hilltop and Bryden have areas of the building that are air conditioned.

Veon explained that it would not be feasible to install air conditioning at Hilltop and Bryden.

Because of the way the buildings were built, there’s not the ductwork to allow for [air conditioning]. The ceilings are low, they’re solid, so you can’t run ductwork through them,” Veon said.

I am just really proud of the kids in the building and the staff. Everybody handled it beautifully, and it was well organized.

— Hilltop Principal Rebecca Holthaus

Veon added that if the elementary schools eventually combine at Fairmount Elementary School, central air conditioning and heating will be installed along with with the ductwork and venting.

This week, no electrical malfunctions have occurred in the schools, and school has proceeded as normal.

I am just really proud of the kids in the building and the staff,” Holthaus said. “Everybody handled it beautifully, and it was well organized.”

“I just think it’s a tribute to the fact that we really take safety as a priority in Beachwood,” she added.

“We deal with [power outages] just like people do at home. Just like [when] you’re at home, you have to wait and see…” Veon said.