Bright Ideas on Display as Power Interruption Darkens Campus
On December 6, early-arriving faculty and staff discovered an uncharacteristic gloom permeating Shore's campus, even for a winter morning: large swaths in the Winslow Building, Dining Hall, gymnasiums, Upper School classrooms, the science wing, and seemingly random Lower School classrooms and breakout spaces were only partially illuminated, or had no light at all. Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds John Beal dialed National Grid, and within what seemed like just minutes the power company had three trucks and crews idling in Shore's Oval, ready to diagnose and solve the problem—preferably with little impact to the school day.
Conferring with Head of School Clair Ward, Beal and the National Grid teams quickly came to the conclusion that strong winds and rain the previous night had somehow affected part of the electric feed from the Cabot Street utility connection to the school. One of three critical fuses in Shore's "three-phase" power supply—a more robust and efficient system than typical household two-phase installations, and common with larger institutions—had been damaged at the street in the storm, in turn harming one of the underground cables feeding the school with power. This loss of one out of three phases left certain circuits up and running, but others dark. Everything from heating units and bathroom lighting to Wi-Fi access was affected, and every building was hit, but there seemed to be little rhyme or reason to the distribution of the outages—and there could be no repair work done without shutting down the remaining supply of power, leaving campus completely dark and potentially with critical systems such as fire and safety non-functional.
The power outage raised another major concern for Director of Technology Susan Morgan, who with colleague and Systems Support Specialist Dave Poulo had been nervously monitoring the systems that powered and cooled Shore's still-functioning server core, the backbone for the school's computing systems and IP telephone network. Pulling power to the servers would require a lengthy shutdown process, but what would be worse was any potential damage to the cooling system caused by the partial power loss. Keeping the servers cool was of critical importance.
Still, shutting down all power with a full school was not an option, and by mid-morning, with approximately 400 students and 100 faculty and staff happily going about their day in semi-darkness, Ward knew it was time to meet with Morgan and some of the administrative team to decide: call for an early, emergency release to allow the shutdown of campus and let the utility workers to begin their repairs, or proceed with the school day as normally as possible, releasing all students at 3:00 p.m., when daylight would begin to disappear and temperatures would drop, anyway.
Consensus was quickly reached. Confident that Shore's students, teachers, and staff could roll with the unexpected power situation and adapt when they found lights out or systems down, Ward and her team announced that school would continue until 3 o'clock as usual.
As the announcement went out, Shore leapt into action. Teachers and students in the darkest rooms became problem-solvers as they searched for unused spaces with exterior windows, or worked with peers to carve out small-group learning areas in classrooms with lights and a few seats to spare. Other classes just went with the darker, chiller vibe in their no-power spaces, relying on battery-powered laptops for illumination and instruction—it was "Hour of Code" week, after all, and every grade was taking part in coding games, challenges, and projects led by Technology Integration Specialist Jill Codding. Meanwhile, in Pre-K1, darkness turned the cozy classroom into a twinkly lunch setting as LED holiday lights blinked, and in Pre-K2 across the hallway, it created the perfect opportunity for extra quiet time.
On a day like this one, lunch was a critical test. Without a functioning Dining Hall, making it to 3:00 p.m. would be a tall order. Fortunately, administrators deciding to keep the school running knew that while certain kitchen equipment and Dining Hall lights were down, the all-important ovens and hot-food line were just fine, and for lunch children enjoyed Chef Flanagan's popular General Tso's chicken entree nearly as planned—paper trays and compostable plastic cutlery were the kitchen's only accomodation to the power outage.
As 3:00 p.m. neared, Shore's campus took on the look and feel of the day before holiday break. Cars arrived early for the all-school pickup, and when they filled the Oval's three lanes completely, later-arriving vehicles began parking off campus. At the same time, National Grid's crews were back, also navigating the Oval, and patiently waited for campus to empty so they could begin their work. Fortunately, with Shore's expert carpool-facilitating teachers standing curbside, and the hardworking Buildings and Grounds staff members prowling the Oval to maintain safety and order among three tightly packed lanes of cars, pickup moved along as smoothly as on any other day, and National Grid was soon able to get to work.
Full power to the school was restored in a few hours, but on a cold campus just seeing some of its lighting and heating systems coming back online, Susan Morgan and Dave Poulo of the Tech Team remained. They were there to ensure Shore's server core and phone and computer networks—shut down after school to accomodate National Grid's total blackout of campus—could be carefully powered back on and tested before the start of the next school day. Long after hours, Shore was finally up and running again.
The following morning, all lights on campus blazing away, there were probably more than a few on Shore's campus who wished for another day, or two, of partial power. While the challenges the damage brought were very real—particularly for Scott Flanagan's kitchen staff, Susan Morgan's Tech Team, and Superintendent John Beal's Buildings and Grounds team, who had to closely monitor vital equipment such as ventilation motors that are particularly vulnerable to power issues—the opportunities, too, were just as tangible. Every member of the Shore community genuinely seemed to relish the chance to help solve a collective problem. Rather than bemoaning our fate and throwing in the towel, Shore eagerly dug into deep reserves of creativity, flexibility, caring, and kindness to make it through the day. Losing one kind of power meant we had to rely on another, maybe more important kind—the power that illuminates us as a community.