Explosion at Laura MacArthur School, 1982

Story printed September 28, 1982

Apprehension and excitement show on the faces of first-graders outside Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School following a boiler explosion on September 27, 1982. They’re waiting with teachers Gail Olson and Evelyn Clancy. Click on the photo for a larger version. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune & Herald)

Boiler room explosion rocks elementary school; 2 injured

By Barbara Kucera, News-Tribune & Herald staff writer

More than 700 pupls will stay home today from Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School in West Duluth after an explosion in the boiler room rocked the school Monday.

The school will remain closed at least two days, said Franklin Bradshaw, director of elementary education for the Duluth public schools.

Two men were injured in the explosion, which occurred about 11 a.m. Richard Meadowcroft, a school engineer, and Lyle “Butch” Seeley, an employee of General Heating and Engineering Co., were reported in satisfactory condition Monday in Miller-Dwan Hospital. They suffered first-degree burns on their faces and hands.

No pupils or teachers were injured in the blast.

Two boilers, located in the former West Junior High School at 725 N. Central Ave., provided heat for both the West and MacArthur buildings. The boilers were rendered inoperable by the explosion.

“At this point, we’re assuming that after a couple of days, we’ll have that boiler fixed,” Bradshaw said.

Firefighters prepare to remove windows damaged by the boiler explosion at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)

The two men were working on the boilers when “apparently there was some kind of a malfunction,” said LeRoy Moore, director of physical plant for the school system.

The explosion occurred in the stack connecting the two boilers with the chimney, Moore said.

Fire officials said the blast occurred because of a buildup of gas in the stack, but they do not know what ignited the gas. An investigation was continuing Monday. Neither fire nor school officials had a dollar estimate of the damage.

After the explosion, the fire bell sounded and the school was evacuated. Three engine companies, two ladder trucks, two rescue squads and an assistant chief responded to the alarm, but no fire followed the blast.

About 45 minutes later – after firefighters checked the blast scene – pupils and school employees were allowed back in the school.

Richard Meadowcroft, a school engineer at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School, winces as distilled water is poured over burns on his head by paramedic Ken Danelski, Firefighter Rick Raimo assists. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune & Herald)

Damage was confined to the basement and an entrance to the school located on the floor above the boiler room.

The blast caused some cracks in the walls in adjoining rooms, and shattered windows at the school entrance on the next floor.

Bradshaw said school officials are not sure the boilers can be fixed in two days. Parents will be notified when they can send their children back to school, he said.

“We can’t have the children sitting in a classroom without heat,” Bradshaw said. Busing to other schools isn’t possible because not enough space is available to house the 710 MacArthur-West pupils, he said.

The hall next to the boiler room was damaged by the explosion at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School in West Duluth on Sept. 27, 1982. Two people were injured. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)

The boiler room was extensively damaged by the explosion. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)

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Demolition is under way at the former Laura MacArthur School in West Duluth, which closed at the end of the 2010-11 school year. The new Laura MacArthur Elementary School stands across Central Avenue.

Here’s some information about the school’s history, from a May 2011 issue of the News Tribune: The original 1914 wing of the old school was the original Denfeld High School. When the present Denfeld opened in 1926, it became West Junior High. The elementary wing opened in 1957; it shared a cafeteria and administrative offices with West Junior High and was named Laura MacArthur after a longtime Duluth educator. West Junior High closed in the 1970s, and the entire complex became an elementary school.

Here are some more Laura MacArthur photos from the News Tribune files:

Laura MacArthur Elementary School, as seen from Central Avenue in 1959; click on the photo for a larger version. (News Tribune file photo)

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Community Schools students at Laura MacArthur work on a mural on July 16, 1979. The students were working with artist Mary McDunn of Duluth. Click on the photo for a larger version; note the use of Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets as paint pails. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

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High fashion at Laura MacArthur-West: Modeling can be a tough business, as second-grader Jeremy Hagen found as he wrestled with a sweatshirt while trying to take it off to show a shirt underneath during a fashion show at the school on March 17, 1986. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

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Mary Holz helps her daughter Mandi Anderson, 7, put on a pair of dainty gloves prior to her getting on stage for a fashion show at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School in West Duluth on March 17, 1986. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

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Students at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School listen to the Duluth Accordionaires perform in the school auditorium on March 7, 1986. (John Rott / News-Tribune)

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