Insurer wants money from family of student who kicked ball

An "accident" involving a soccer ball and a hallway sprinkler caused $150,000 in damage to a new Arlington County school, with the school system's insurance company seeking compensation from the family of at least one student.

Two students were kicking a soccer ball in a hallway at Washington-Lee High School when their ball hit a sprinkler head. Water started pouring into the hallway and crept beneath the floor of the nearby gymnasium, according to Arlington Public Schools facilities manager Steve Larson.

"The gym was damaged badly because the sprinkler went off and the process of shutting the sprinkler down involved the fire department," Larson said.

Larson said school officials had to replace about 50 percent of the gym's floor at a cost of about $150,000.

The insurance company -- Travelers Insurance -- determined there was "negligence" on the part of the students, Larson said. Travelers is seeking compensation from the insurer representing at least one of the families of the two students involved.

The new Washington-Lee High School was completed last year at a cost of about $98 million.

Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos said she could not release the names of the students involved in the accident eight weeks ago or the details of the insurer's pursuit of payment from their families.

"I've heard that Travelers determined a child is responsible for the damages, but we don't have anything to do with it," Erdos said. Calls to Travelers Insurance were not returned.

It is not clear whether damage to the gym could have been prevented.

An Arlington County Fire Department official said engineers at Washington-Lee could have turned off the sprinkler before the fire department arrived, potentially mitigating the damage to the gym.

"No, they don't have to wait for us," said Chief Fire Marshal Ben Barksdale.

Arlington schools officials would not say whether a school engineer had been on site or whether such extensive damages might have been preventable.

The damage to the gymnasium has forced last-minute changes for several summer basketball camps, whose organizers and participants only recently learned about the accident.

Orange Line Sports Basketball Camp organizer Joe Reed, who is also a teacher at Washington-Lee, said he heard about the gym damage just last week. He said his camp has been moved to Swanson Middle School, but one camper had already canceled.

Arlington officials said repairs to the Washington-Lee gym should be completed next month.