After explosion, Harmas focuses on rebuilding CHS


Workers piled debris from the explosion in dumpsters while working at CHS on Jan. 2. According to Principal Tom Harmas, work crews have made efficient progress on repairs to the building but he does not know when all of the damage will be completely fixed. Photographer: Nick Beckman

Carson TerBush

After the Dec. 26 explosion that occurred at CHS in a boiler room near the fieldhouse, Principal Tom Harmas said he and his administrative team have been focused on facilitating repairs and restoring the building back to normal. Harmas said he is proud that construction crews fixed the exterior roof and clear most debris from the fieldhouse and surrounding areas very quickly, but said he does not know when the overall repairs will be completed or how much they will ultimately cost.

Roger McMichael, Associate Superintendent for Business, said via email, “The expenses are covered by the (Carmel Clay Schools) district’s insurance policy, less a $75,000 deductible. The deductible will be paid from the district’s operating funds. We don’t know the cost yet, but it will likely be several million dollars.”

Harmas said rebuilding after the explosion has been a complicated process involving many different repairs and teams of people working together.

“There’s a lot more than just walling off the area that was going on,” Harmas said. “Walls needed to be built. Debris needed to be cleaned up. The Carmel Fire Department needed to be out to inspect everything. We needed to get water back in our sprinkler systems; we needed to get heat back; there was no heat in the building for a few days. The strobes that go off and the sirens, we had to make sure that all of those worked. We had to make sure we had enough exits for people to go to and those kind of things. So many things had to happen, but with everybody working together as a team, from ESC to the school, to our maintenance people, were excellent. They did such a fine job, and our custodians did too, and all the contractors. It really took hundreds of people to get us where we are today.”

Harmas said on Dec. 26, he and other administrators were on the scene shortly after they heard news of the explosion.

“My wife and I were ready to go out to dinner, and all of the sudden she gets a text from one of her friends who is on Twitter. Well, as soon as the run was called, the Carmel Fire Department tweeted it—(my wife’s friend) goes, I’m sorry to hear about the high school. My wife read the tweet, I called Dr. Beresford, CPD had already called him. About a minute later, Mr. Schaller called; he had been taking his daughter down Smoky Row Road to a friend’s house to spend the night and was driving back and saw all the red lights, so he called me; Mr. Inskeep saw the same stuff, so he was here,” Harmas said. “The first night that we really didn’t what was going on; we didn’t know how people were going to be; we didn’t know if there were other people injured in the building and so forth. You get a little nervous when that’s going on. However, the fire chief really made us feel comfortable, and all the fire department. They had us in the emergency management mobile, where basically the headquarters for the night was. The firefighters and all those people were here and when they got the fire knocked down and everything was secure around midnight or so, we went on a tour of the building just to see what the damage was. We started making plans right away—what does this look like, how are we going to fix it?”

Reflecting on the events of the explosion, Harmas said the response from students practicing basketball and wrestling at that time showed the skills disaster training provides students.

“The CDC head basketball coaches that were there said our high school kids said ‘Follow us’ (after the explosion occurred),” Harmas said. “The training that we’ve done and everything that we do in that aspect worked. Our wrestlers heard the impact and didn’t really know what it was, but as soon as the sirens went off, boom—they were down the stairwell and going. People went down to the stadium—just like our plan says: we’re going to evacuate to the stadium. That’s the reason we do (our disaster training). Our students were there to help the little ones and the parents (from CDC) find their way where they needed to go.”

“If you would have told me two weeks ago that this is where we would have been, (I would say) no way. But this is where we are, and we’re very very grateful that the two guys that were injured are home, really doing well considered, and that nobody else was injured,” Harmas said. By Carson TerBush