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Wall collapse injures Marshfield student’s wrist

Marshfield High School student Abigail Campbell is recovering from a broken wrist she suffered Dec. 21 when a concrete-block wall in the girls’ locker room crumbled.

Her parents have consulted a lawyer about recovering their out-of-pocket medical expenses, but they do not plan to seek additional compensation, according to Tricia Campbell, Abigail’s mother. They want to make sure the school is safe, she said.

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During last week’s school break, Superintendent Scott Borstel could not be reached to respond to the Campbells’ concerns. Assistant Superintendent Ellen Martin declined to say how the district would proceed with the medical bills.

“At this point, that’s a private matter, so we won’t be able to comment on that,’’ she said.

Tricia Campbell said the family is grateful Abigail, a ninth-grader, didn’t sustain more serious injuries.

“It was scary. It was very scary. I’m still shaking,’’ she said.

A 14-year-old Michigan boy died in a similar incident in October when a cinder-block wall collapsed in a school locker room.

Last week, Williamston, Mich., Police Chief Bob Young said the school has been unable to determine whether a design flaw, construction flaw, or problem with maintenance led to the collapse. The boy was doing a pull-up on the wall, which was like a “bookend’’ at the end of a row of lockers, and he went into cardiac arrest when the wall fell, the chief said. News reports said the Michigan school was built in 1990.

In Marshfield, Borstel said immediately after the accident that the wall was part of the original design of the high school, which opened in 1967. The wall was made of narrow concrete blocks and was not load-bearing. It acted as a privacy screen to separate areas of the locker room.

Other Massachusetts schools built around that time may have similar partitions. Leaders of the state associations that represent building inspectors and school facilities managers could not be reached for comment.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority is not likely to have a record of which schools have such walls, since inspection is outside its purview, said Jack McCarthy, its interim executive director. The agency funds school construction.

Michael Clancy, building commissioner in Marshfield, said he couldn’t explain why the wall collapsed.

“I have no idea why,’’ he said. “That’s why we’re waiting for the engineer’s report.’’

An outside engineer is expected to provide a report to the school administration.

Marshfield voters approved construction of a new high school in November, based in part on the deteriorating condition of the building. But officials did not consider the wall unstable prior to the collapse, Clancy said.

The day of the incident, Abigail Campbell said, she was standing with her arms crossed and leaning against the wall. She remembers seeing it break in half and come toward her. She did her best to get out of the way, but couldn’t escape before a block hit her wrist. Another bounced off the floor and hit her leg.

“I don’t remember most of it,’’ she said. “The shock of it just made me not remember.’’

State records show Marshfield High School was last renovated in 1973, prior to the uniform state building code going into effect in 1975.

Borstel said the wall was about 4 inches thick, 6 feet tall, and 8 feet long. The section of the girls’ locker room that contains that type of partition has been closed. The rest of the locker room, built later, does not have the same partitions, nor does the boys’ locker room. Those areas remain open, he said.

Tricia Campbell said she plans to keep her daughter out of school until she knows the building is safe. She fears what other dangers might be lurking undetected.

“There was not supposed to be a problem in the girls’ locker room, and obviously there was,’’ she said.

The new school is scheduled to open in 2014 - not a moment too soon in Campbell’s eyes.

“I don’t know if they can speed up that new school, but they need to make it safe,’’ she said.

Campbell also expressed disappointment that she hadn’t heard from the school administration after the initial call to report her daughter’s injury. She thought someone would have called to see how Abigail was doing.

“I’m surprised at the lack of response,’’ she said. “It tells me they don’t care.’’

The family has health insurance, but pays a deductible. Abigail visited an emergency room the day of the injury and again the next day to set the wrist. On Dec. 27, she saw a doctor to get a waterproof cast on her wrist and an X-ray of her knee, which was bothering her.

Abigail Campbell said she is righthanded, and it was her right wrist that was broken. She earns money making fabric shoulder bags, and said the injury forced her to cancel two orders. She expects to wear the cast for about six months.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at jennettebarnes@yahoo.com.
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