A small fire failed to trigger smoke detectors in a lounge on the second floor of Franklin Science Center at Shippensburg University late Wednesday afternoon.
Physics professor Kate Shirk said she smelled something burning when a colleague opened the door to her office Wednesday afternoon. They investigated and found a student lounge, Franklin 203, was full of smoke, but no fire was present in the room.
“We did not hear a fire alarm. At that point, when we saw the ashes, we called campus police,” Shirk said.
From there, the SU Police Department contacted firefighters, who sent three trucks to the parking lot between the Grace B. Luhrs University Elementary School and Franklin Science Center. Vigilant Hose Co. President Greg Coy said the fire was reported to firefighters at 4:24 p.m.
“It appears that somebody had tried to set books on fire,” Shirk said.
SUPD Detective Karl Schucholz collected several books from the table in Room 203 as evidence. After police cleared the scene, a custodian cleaned ashes off the table, floor and a nearby shelf.
“It is concerning that alarms did not go off,” Shirk said. “We don’t have a way in the building to notify everyone that things are all right.”
“Safety is an issue here. This is an older building and needs updated,” said Robin McCann, a chemistry professor. “I think the university knows that, and I think they are working towards getting some changes and some renovation to the building. They’re working with us now to try to do that, but this is a symptom of an old building. It needs work.”
Shirk said she cannot make a judgment on whether or not the equipment needs replaced for safety.
“This building has been on the list of renovations for a very long time, and that can keeps getting kicked down the road by the various powers that be,” Shirk said. “Our building maintenance crew is amazing in how they try to keep this place running, but they’re really holding it together with duct tape and a prayer somedays.”
McCann said the university has helped the chemistry department stay to code. She said facilities and management worked hard with her at the beginning of this year to improve safety in the organic chemistry lab.
“This was a huge step forward, and more than previous administrations have done. I’m really pleased with that,” McCann said. However, she said Franklin has been waiting for 10-15 years for a renovation and that Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education approved such a project.
“When I came on board in 2012, they were doing it ‘any day’ now,” Shirk said.
Kimberly Garris, SU’s vice president of External Relations & Communications, said SUPD is investigating the fire, which she says was “very small and isolated and was extinguished quickly.”
Garris also confirmed Franklin Science Center will be the next large capital project for the university.