Fire damages chapel at South Kent School, burns archives
Updated 11:02 pm, Wednesday, April 19, 2017
KENT — A fire late Tuesday in St. Michael’s Chapel at the South Kent School left the building standing, but archives stored in the back of the building were destroyed.
“A lot of memories have been lost,” said Gonzalo Garcia-Pedroso, a school spokesman.
“The history of it, archives of all the services, were in the sacristy ... But we feel blessed, everything is standing.”
The fire apparently started in the sacristy, where churches often keep sacred vestments and vessels, furnishings and church records.
The fire at the boys’ private college prep school was discovered shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday, when a faculty member noticed smoke coming from the chapel. The faculty member promptly made an emergency call, Garcia-Pedroso said, “and response time was second to none.”
Within 15 minutes, crews from Kent, Warren, New Milford, Northville and Gaylordsville responded, Garcia-Pedroso said.
“I’ve never seen that many engines,” Garcia-Pedroso said. “They were great. They’re all volunteers.”
All students, faculty and staff were safe and accounted for Tuesday evening.
In a social-media update Wednesday morning, the school said a thick interior brick wall prevented the flames from spreading to the main chapel.
“We were blessed,” Garcia-Pedroso said.
The chapel, which hosts four formal services a week and countless meetings, should be repaired and back in service by June at the latest, he added. Until then, services will be held in the school’s assembly hall.
Kent Fire Chief Alan Gawel told Fox 61 firefighters encountered “heavy flames and heavy fire in the sacristy area of the chapel. There is heavy structural damage in that section. The rest of the chapel has some smoke damage.”
The chapel, completed in 1934 — 11 years after the school was founded — is South Kent School community’s place of worship in the tradition of the Episcopal Church, but is a place for all faiths, Garcia-Pedroso said.
There’s a mezuzah — a traditional Jewish doorpost fixture containing a Torah verse — at the entryway he said. All students touch it upon entry and exit, following the Jewish tradition, regardless of their faith, he added.
“We’re a resilient little community,”said Garcia-Pedroso, a 1995 graduate of the school.
The outpouring of support after the school posted updates on social media “has been unbelievable.”
The fire is still being investigated, Garcia-Pedroso said, and the school has yet to know its cause, “but the first suspect is electrical.”
Well-wishers from several of the students’ 19 home states and 22 native countries reached out, he said. Eighty-four percent of the school’s students board on campus.
South Kent School, established in 1923, is a college preparatory school for boys in grades 9 through 12. The school has an enrollment of 180.
Digital news editor Jim Shay contributed to this report