Pilgrim High School bleachers closed ahead of homecoming game due to code violations

West Bay

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s not uncommon to see the bleachers at Pilgrim High School filled with students once the fall sports season rolls around.

But the school was forced to close them off Thursday after a parent from another school noticed the bleachers weren’t up to code.

The code requires the spacing between the floor and seats to be no greater than four inches. Unfortunately, that space on Pilgrim’s bleachers is 18 inches. The bleachers are now blocked off and will remain that way until they’re brought up to code.

The timing of the closure couldn’t be worse, according to Pilgrim High School Principal Gerry Habershaw, who said the high school’s homecoming game is scheduled for Friday night.

“These bleachers have been here since 1965 and we’ve not had any safety issues at all,” Habershaw said.

“The unfortunate thing is, these kids have been through a lot with the pandemic and everything, and they’ve lost a lot,” he continued. “We felt like things were getting back to normal and then this hit us.”

Peter Sangiovanni, a teacher at the high school, created an online petition regarding the situation, which asks the city to delay fixing the bleachers until after the fall sports season.

“We’ve been all using these facilities for quite a while with this code violation,” Sangiovanni said. “I just don’t understand why they couldn’t wait until the fall sports were done.”

Mayor Frank Picozzi said while the bleachers are structurally sound, the city’s building inspector has to investigate the violation because it poses a safety hazard.

“There have been a lot of calls for me to overrule the building inspector on this, and I can’t legally do that,” Picozzi said.

Picozzi said the blame falls squarely on those who were in charge of maintenance at the school decades ago when the safety code was first implemented.

Habershaw said the high school has already come up with alternative seating arrangements for the homecoming pep rally and game.

“The pep rally is going to be moved to the outfield of the baseball field,” he explained. “We’re going to have people sitting on the track during the game and we’ll have our floats set up stationary around the field.”

While Habershaw admits the adjustments aren’t ideal, he believes they’re manageable.

“We’ve been the great chameleons and we’ve learned how to adjust when these things happen,” he said.

Long-term, Warwick Code Enforcement said the bleachers will need backboards between the bottom of the seat and the footrests to prevent someone from slipping through the gap.

There’s currently no timeline on when the backboards will be installed, though Warwick Superintendent Lynn Dambruch said the district is “working on rectifying this situation for future events.”

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