Failed fiber-optic cable caused delayed opening at Scotland Tuesday

A three-hour delayed opening at Scotland Elementary School on Tuesday, May 29, was caused by the failure of the fiber-optic cable that connects the school to Barlow Mountain Elementary, acting Superintendent Dr. Robert Miller said last week.

Miller, who also serves as the director of technology for the district, said the schools are still assessing how much the damage to the wiring will cost. He said it was possible that the damage, which cut four of the six lines of fiber optic running between the two schools, was caused by an animal chewing through the wiring.

“The danger is not knowing today what caused the damage, and that it could come back to damage those two lines of fiber,” Miller said.

The schools are looking into whether their insurance plan will cover the cost of replacement.

School board Vice Chairman Doug Silver asked whether the town would be responsible for the cost, since digging up the wiring will need to be done in the school parking lot. But Miller said the district’s network infrastructure falls on the schools to maintain. The town might help cover the cost of ripping up the parking lot to access the damaged fiber-optic cables.

Miller said the schools learned about the problem in the early morning hours Tuesday. After a signal went out indicating Scotland might have lost power, a technician with the school facilities operations went out at around 2 a.m. Tuesday morning and found the school did have power but that there was something wrong with the school’s fiber-optic connection to Barlow Mountain.

Police were contacted, emergency protocols were put in place, and a radio was put in every teacher’s hand, Miller said. “If you remember, last year the radio system was the major capital request. … Today proved that system,” he noted. He said the good news was that the school’s security procedures worked flawlessly.

The radios are a “worst case scenario” for opening school, Miller explained.

Throughout the day, technicians worked to route most of the school’s network functions through the two remaining fiber-optic cables.

The cost of the damage could be of particular concern. While Miller did not say whether the cost of the repair could jeopardize the schools’ remaining funds, the district has been under a hard budget freeze since September because of unexpected special education costs. For months, the school board expected it might have to turn to the Board of Finance for a one-time appropriation — essentially a bailout — to prevent the current year’s budget from ending in the red.

Connecticut law prevents boards of education from ending the year in debt.

The most recent financial report from the district shows the schools expect to end the year with a balance, after savings were found in the district’s health insurance accounts. That report was written before the damage to Scotland’s fiber-optic cables was discovered, however.

The strain of ending out this year — one marked by financial stress and a record number of storm closings — seemed to weigh on the board Tuesday night.

“Five weeks, that’s all we ask,” said Chairwoman Fran Walton.